Like any other group (I know, we’re not actually a cohesive group, but bear with me), attitudes among atheists cover a wide spectrum. Some are timid and afraid to offend and some revel in tearing apart every theist that crosses their path.
There are militant atheists and moderate atheists. I’ve heard some atheists refer to other atheists who are nice to theists as “appeasers”. As if treating them like humans is somehow weak or gives credence to their beliefs.
Now, when a theist is being obstinate, pushy and is doing nothing but obfuscating and preaching, they need to be put in their place. Unfortunately, those are the types that tend to show up in online discussions regarding atheism and theism. So, such discussions generally immediately devolve into mud slinging where the theists quote Bible verses and psuedo science and atheists hurl quotes from Hitchens and Dawkins, the more vitriolic the better.
While this can be funny as hell, it’s not doing a lot for our image. Yes, we know we can be good without god, but if we’re dicks, we don’t do a good job of proving it. After all, if we’re big on evidence, let’s provide some.
Most theists don’t take part in these discussions and, mostly through no fault of their own, are simply ignorant regarding their own Bible and regarding science. Most theists only know what they’ve been told via the mainstream media and through sermons at their churches. I’m talking about non-fundamentalists here. The ones who, when someone takes the time to calmly and kindly explain a lot of things, can say “Oh, I didn’t know that” and are more capable of being accepting of not just scientific facts, but of atheists.
We need them on our side, and furthermore, they need us on theirs. Why? Because, to the fundies, moderate theists may as well be atheists. Anyone who is not a fundie is hellbound and an enemy that must be converted or destroyed. Fundies are not known for embracing any ideas that aren’t already part of their ideology. They need to know that even most theists are not on their side.
If the moderate theists can view us as allies and we can view them as allies, then we can both expose fundamentalism for the social poison that it is. Imagine a group of atheists and moderate theists standing together to oppose hate and blind fear! Imagine the message that would show the world for how we really can all get along.
We need to show them that we’re not trying to remove their freedom to believe in their god, we just want to have the freedom not to.
Now, I know what Sam Harris has to say about moderate theism enabling fundamentalism, and I agree. However, it’s not an intentional act on the part of these theists. Most of them are simply theist by default. They grew up with it and don’t even know that atheists don’t hate god and are simply people just like them who want a good life and friends and families and to take part in a civil society. They are given an image of us that would be laughably cartoonish if it wasn’t so despicable.
So, let’s reach out as friendly atheists and show the moderates that we’re people too. Treat them with kindness. Stand up for them when they’re under attack from fundies. Be an example of the Golden Rule they claim to hold so dear. When they see that we truly are good without god, they won’t have to fear us anymore. They won’t misunderstand us so much. They may even stand up for us in return.
The big enemy is the abject wingnuttery that has taken hold of the fundamentalists. The mindless insanity that drives them to bomb abortion clinics, picket funerals, and constantly spew such ugly hate whenever they have anyone’s attention.
Don’t forget, we can be an example to their children! When they see their own parents acting like maniacs and they see us treating people well and being happier, they may start to question their indoctrination! Being good examples is a wonderful way to teach!
We don’t need to respect the beliefs of moderate theists, we just need to respect them as people. In return, they don’t need to agree with or respect our lack of belief, but they can learn to treat us like humans too. This is what’s missing from the whole theist/atheist clash: basic human respect.
Part of this respect is choosing our battles more wisely. If you sneeze and they say “God bless you”, don’t say “I’M AN ATHEIST!! KEEP YOUR GOD TO YOURSELF!!” Just say “thanks”. In those little moments, they’re not trying to convert us, they’re just saying what they feel is polite according to their default beliefs. It’s not an attack on our freedoms.
Of course, if they’re trying to replace evolution in a neighborhood school, fight tooth and nail! Like I said, pick your battles wisely. We can’t expect respect if we’re not respectable, and neither can they.
© 2015 William Suphan
- Ascending To Atheism
- Belief vs. Evidence