Last week I was having dinner with a fellow atheist and he was talking about a mutual acquaintance who was preaching to him about creationism. I expressed my views on the subject, being a former creationist, but he said that he wasn't in a hurry to respond because as far as he was concerned, this person was his enemy.

This, I am afraid, is an all too common response among atheists. Our behavior towards the religious is in need of a makeover. Yes, we are the targets of bigotry and hatred, but if this is our attitude towards people who don't think like us, why shouldn't they be scared of us?

Usually we will begrudgingly say that "people have the right to believe whatever they want," but in exactly the same tone that the religious will say about us. We have little or no compassion for our fellow human beings, which are locked in belief systems that play every emotional trick in the book to keep them enslaved. We expect them to be rational, when they have been brainwashed from a very early age. We haven't even gotten to the point where we can use that hypocritical adage religious people use, that you should "love the sinner and hate the sin."

Science has shown us time and again that we are not as rational as we think we are. Yet constantly I see atheists expressing total faith in their own rationality, instead of viewing it as merely the least bad tool for understanding the world. The flaws of religion are easy for us to see, but doesn't the fact that so many people still believe them say something about human beings in general, non-religious as well as religious? Are we so arrogant as to think that making reason the center of our lives can only produce at best a marginal improvement in true clarity of thought, and might make things worse if it gives us a false sense of clarity?

Irreligious people predominate in much of Europe, but did this happen because a bunch of atheists jumped down people's throats? I doubt it. It is much more likely that people quietly dropped their religion and became more humble about their views, rather than firmly reacting negatively to it. This offers us a way forward in our struggle for greater acceptance. Everyone has asked themselves at some point in their lives about the question of evil, and a gentle prompting of this question will go much farther than drawing lines in the sand. Negative reactions to the religious are counter-productive.

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Comment by Sentient Biped on July 13, 2011 at 11:07pm

Frequently people who reveal themselves as atheist wind up bombarded by family and associates who criticise them for being atheist, preached at, nagged, rejected, put down, and otherwise abused for being open in their atheism.  In addition, some atheists really have been abused by the religious, long before they were atheist.  I understand the need for diplomacy, but it's hard for me to criticise anyone who is avidly antireligous. 

 

In my own life, I try to be nice to everyone.  I try to be gentle and kind.  There are religious people, and atheists, who have been complete assholes to me.  There are religious people, and atheists, who have been really kind.  It actually takes all kinds to fight a war, and if you don't think there is a cultural war going on, listen sometimes to religious leaders.  They know there is, and have no qualms about "onward christian soldiers, marching as to war" - a hymn I was forced to memorize as a child.

 

I think it's easy to be overcritical of ardent atheists, but we should understand that it takes all kinds.  There are some prominant angry ones.  There are also prominant religious demigogues, fanatics, and macchiavellians.   That doesn't mean everyone is, but enough.  It's ironic that your friend was criticised for calling "enemy" for someone who preached at him.  I wouldn't like that either.  I don't preach at theists.  I don't want them preaching at me.

Comment by Napoleon Bonaparte on July 13, 2011 at 9:29pm

I'll tell you if you are wrong on the issue of arrogance if you can explain the  'Tall Poppy Syndrome' which exists in the United States in relation to arrogant people. I mean, as soon as someone gets too arrogant, they get chopped down. I read it time and time again.

I think arrogant people should be given a free reign. Good luck to them.

 

Comment by Karla on July 13, 2011 at 5:56pm

@Jim: Negative reactions would only be counter-productive if expressed.  What say you?

@Cliff: A "free thinking christian?" - I may give that a try sometime, see how people react.

@Napoleon: nobody knows all - arrogance can be counter-productive as well.  Am I wrong?

 

Yes, the whole "brainwashed from childhood" part is not easy for the rest of us to live with, we're always having to butt heads as a result with the many that actually think they know exactly what they're talking about when they discuss the inconsistencies of religion.  Nobody knows all.  Now, dinner time!

Comment by Napoleon Bonaparte on July 13, 2011 at 12:33pm

Whats so wrong with being arrogant ? It means having or revealing an exaggerated sense of one's own importance or abilitities. It doesn't necessarily imply defective reasoning. It's better than being ignorant.

 What is the question of evil ? It sounds like something in the realm of theology. In other words a load of crap.

I don't care about overtly religious people in the United States of America. Fuck the lot of them.

A jerk is not a stereotypical Atheist. Atheists who are jerks are generally ex-theists who indulge in theology.

Comment by Michael Smith on July 12, 2011 at 7:03pm
Well, I know that if someone approached me and tried to convince me of their religious beliefs, that it would be counterproductive for him to negatively react to my irreligious stance. I know that the stereotype of atheism is that we are jerks, and that reinforcing stereotypes strengthens prejudice. Um, do you have any evidence that it's productive?
Comment by Jim Hoerst on July 12, 2011 at 2:46pm
Cliff, Why would you call yourself a Christian if you don't subscribe to any Christian beliefs?
Comment by Jim Hoerst on July 12, 2011 at 2:45pm
Do you have any evidence that: Negative reactions to the religious are counter-productive?

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