Monday, April 7, 2014

The Greatest Threat to Atheism


I know the title sounds a bit dramatic, and it was meant to. It of course needs to grab your attention, and pull you into the rant I'm about to throw at you, like a dodgeball at the fat kid in PE class. This may ruffle some feathers, to be sure, but if you stop to think about it, then I've already done more for you than I could have hoped for.

It has been my experience as I've progressed through various phases of atheism, that there is above all one HUGE obstacle to the acceptance of atheism into the mainstream. Oh, we've made headway, walking hand-in-hand with humanism and a ton of other labels that share us with atheism. However, there is one thing that is holding us back.

This thing, is of course, atheists.

I doubt this idea is singular to me, and it is by no means universal. Some of the most thoughtful, wonderful, compassionate people I've met are atheists. I sincerely enjoy most of the atheist community, but there are times i see the community splinter along arbitrary lines and it seems so stupid. For a group of people who generally acknowledge that people matter and life is special, we spend an awful lot of time on in-fighting. It sincerely pushes me away from the atheist community more than it gives me a sense of solidarity, and given the nature of all of our shared labels and ideas, the last thing we need is to be at each other's throats. I understand that not all of us are interested in activism or changing the world. Some people just want to be left alone with their outlook. I respect that, because that doesn't make you act like a vapid little shit goblin.

Now some of you are probably nodding quietly to yourselves. Some of you may be a little skeptical of that statement. So let's dive in a little deeper. Whenever religion does something batshit crazy, everyone is quick to point this out, religious and secular people alike. The mainstream disagrees with stoning rape victims, or protesting at funerals. It's very easy to get support against the big things, even from theists who understand that religious ideology has to develop with the times. We meet resistance from these fringe lunatics, and it isn't very hefty resistance. Oh, to be sure, the conservative right wing in America is pretty mainstream and accepted in our little corner of the world, and there are similar groups all over that we see in our respective countries and think "Fucking hell, these people are insane."

You know what though? The numbers and time are on our side. That's a game of patience. One we can see eventually winning out on, because they're a bunch of bigoted pricks and people see this. So this is a problem, but not our biggest problem.

Our biggest problem lies in the same area as all other "movements" or "labels" find their biggest struggles: members of our own group who share an idea, but take it to an extreme that borders on fanaticism. Like every other group, religion included, this fringe group of fuckwits gives the majority a bad name. I know plenty of Muslims. Two of my best friends are devout, practicing Muslim women. They are both extremely intelligent, independent, strong women, and neither one of them has tried to kill me (unless the poison failed due to my Herculean constitution and intestinal fortitude.) Those Muslims are not the ones anyone has a problem with. It's the fringe fundamentalist nutjobs who are stoning rape victims and beheading apostates that people are concerned about. THESE are not the majority. The same stands for Christianity and Judaism. Every group has their Al Qaeda and Westboro Baptist Church, and the groups do their best to distance themselves from them with equal amounts disgust and shame. 

Well, atheists have that too. It's harder for us though, because we're already working up hill. People already have a negative impression of any ideology that includes "no gods, because no proof." We also have the misfortune of being closely associated with a ton of other subgroups, such as feminists, liberals,leftists, socialists, etc. Each of THOSE groups has their fringe idiot subpopulations. 

So what is our atheist splinter "group" that raises so much hassle? There are a couple. The most obvious is the argumentative, crass, douchebag antitheist. I've been there, and sometimes I still dabble in this realm. Seriously though, being a cunt to people who don't understand your point of view isn't going to help them understand it. You're just alienating people when you should be trying to open their minds to the other side of the argument. They aren't stupid... some of the smartest people I know are religious, and that belief doesn't make them idiots. It's a result of a world view likely pushed on them since youth. In most cases, it isn't their fault. These flagrant fuckclowns don't get that though. They assume everyone who isn't an atheist-skeptic-liberal-egalitarian-socialist is an intellectually inferior being who deserves only scorn and insult. They claim that there can be no common ground between atheists and theists, and seriously, this is extremely ignorant. They're ignoring humanity for the sake of the labels they're GIVING these people. Since these types tend to be so fucking vocal, especially about stupid shit (like Christmas, or holiday greetings, or what people say when you sneeze, or whatever) it lends a huge negative image for the whole atheist community. They also do VERY little to change a point of view. Their aggressive cuntishness sours potential free-thinkers to thinking critically on their current beliefs. If you're one of these assholes, do what I did and start a blog nobody reads, because your interactions with others are making us ALL look bad. 

A notable subcategory of this, I will term "The Sniper." They seek out young or poorly educated theists specifically for the sake of making arguments and trying to shame or embarrass the theist. It's a pure bullying maneuver, I suppose one that makes them feel smugly superior or something? I'm not even sure what their angle is, besides being combative fucksticks and enjoying their own shitty attempts at self-righteous fervor. I would also like to give a special mention to people who are just generally cunts to other people. They just suck, regardless of labels, but they suck worse when they couple it with undeserved self-aggrandizing, self-righteous fervor. 

Then you have the atheists who assume ALL atheists are appropriating the same labels. These are the ones who assume we're all feminists. Or liberals. Or vegetarians. They get so angry when other atheists don't adhere to these. This creates dissent among the community, turning it all to internal bickering about rather irrelevant topics. They seem to forget that we're all people first, and the labels are taken or appropriated (or misappropriated) based on ourselves and those around us. They can't accept that any ideology but their own could have support and include atheists. These are the types of jerkoffs who alienate other atheists based on the totality of their own labels. A huge example of this kind of fuckery is Atheism+, which were as bad as religious fundamentalists in their outlook of "if you disagree with us, you're wrong." You often hear atheists get criticized for not being "real atheists" because they may not be feminists or skeptics. These people need to stop a moment and think about the fact that atheism literally just means someone doesn't believe in a deity. It often occurs alongside some other ideas, like humanism and egalitarianism, but seriously... that's it. Just not believing in gods. In this group, I also want to include atheists who play at being "more atheist than thou." These are the atheists who think that anyone who doesn't adhere to their idea of atheism isn't a "true atheist" or not as "atheist" as them. Which is, in and of itself, pretty awful and condescending. They constantly talk about atheist literature and will defend their favorite atheist philosopher with their lives if called upon to do so. They look down on those who have no interest in debate or activism.They're generally just a tad self-righteous. (Are you seeing that theme?)

Now we have the super-philosophers. This isn't just relegated to atheism, these people are just all-around awful. These are the ones who like to verbosely pontificate on the depths of human wisdom and knowledge. Generally it's a lot of intellectual masturbation that is supposed to make them seem deep and self-aware. Unfortunately, they're not self-aware enough to realize they just come across as pseudo-intellectual douchebags. These people are constantly trying to stage semantic arguments and ignoring the spirit of a discussion or point. They also constantly come across as less philosopher, and more condescending prick. So you've read a lot of books on theology and atheism and you enjoy the discussions of meanings and making it seem like a semantic argument is an accurate representation. Good for you, chinstrap. They like to use a lot of big, fancy sounding words in conversation in an attempt to end conversations at their desired point.. a point at which they seem to have some transcendent understanding and awareness, or at the least infallible "arguments." Let's be perfectly clear, a philosophical debate has its place, but accomplishes basically nothing except trying to show off that you can make an eloquent argument, regardless of any factual support. If you have to abuse language and be intellectually dishonest, guess what? You're a fucking waste of breath. Don't expect me to waste time on your smug attempts at superiority.

Let's look at MY favorite: the uber-science fanboy atheist. I personally find these the MOST obnoxious, since I am entrenched in science and most of them aren't, and because they come off seeming so reasonable and then blindside you with their self-righteous fuckery. These are your folks who do indeed treat science as if it were some kind of immutable end-all-be-all of knowledge. They act like peer review is some perfect method, and that anything that isn't peer reviewed by the scientific community lacks relevance. These ones are spectacular to see because they constantly boil everything down to "well, science says..." without actually understanding the science.

Or what science is.

Or how it works.

These armchair scientists and fan boys like to quote science trivia as if that is an acceptable placeholder for actual scientific literacy, and they confuse a 15 minute google search with actual knowledge. They like to quote media scientists as if this creates some relevance to their ignorance, and generally spend a lot of time drooling over science they don't understand.

I find this to be patently insulting, as an atheist in a science field. I've never met an actual working scientist who thinks like this... because they don't. These people alienate others by dismissing every other viewpoint from a flawed understanding of science. They seem, at face value, to be very reasonable until you challenge or correct them. Then they start screaming foul and trying to parade their "intellectual superiority" over you. Now, there is nothing wrong about wanting to see sources. Wanting to know where someone is drawing information from is intellectually responsible. Using evidence to make an argument is the only intellectually honest way to MAKE an argument. Arbitrarily misrepresenting information and deifying science defeats the purpose of atheism AND science itself. Science is more than a body of knowledge. It is a matter of thought. Science is not debate, it is sharing and collaborating. Science seeks to build a strong tower of knowledge on a foundation of accumulated success and discovery. Science NEEDS to be questioned, or it doesn't work. Science NEEDS to be collaborative, and to examine all points of view, or it isn't science. These people don't understand that shit. They treat science as if it is always right, in every case, and that it overrides humanity. Well, congratulations on being the reasons theists don't take science seriously. You're on the spectrum of fanaticism simply because you refuse to acknowledge varied points of view for consideration. That's intellectually dishonest, and NOT how science works. 

Trust me, I'm a biologist.

So we see that these are NOT the only subgroups of atheists who are infuriatingly pushing the whole group backwards. Granted, I know there is some hypocrisy in any discussion of labels, especially given my earlier rant on how labels are fucking stupid. And in a sense, this is a continuation of that rant. I just get extremely frustrated at the idea that any group is completely homogeneous. Have your differences, your disagreements, but try not to be a cunt. You can't forget that people have unique experiences and stories. Being an atheist is great. The atheist community's generally welcoming nature is fantastic and it really helped me to come to terms with a drastic paradigm shift, through the caring and support. Now, I know that every group has shitty members and splinter factions, and that these can ruin things for outsiders and insiders. We don't have to share anything but our disbelief, and your differences do not make others less intelligent, or worthwhile. There are some things we all need to acknowledge: human experience, compassion, empathy. The rest will follow if we can treat each other as human beings rather than labels we assign by some arbitrary metric.

Seriously though, any concerted movement towards a more secular world that promotes empathy, compassion, education, logic and reason is impeded by every person who refuses to use these things in their daily lives... more so in a group that must almost necessarily be paragons of these virtues in order to be taken seriously. Unlike religion, we don't have the luxury of millenia of indoctrination and violent "conversion" tactics.We literally have to "practice what we preach" in the sense that if you want the world to be a reasonable, kinder place, you have to lead by fucking example. 

Being a piece of shit to people isn't helping anyone, let alone helping us make a difference in the world.