August 25, 2014

Radical Atheists: Why does everyone want to define the movement by its loudest voices?



You may have heard that Richard Dawkins is in the media again, causing another shitstorm. This happens fairly regularly, and I'm sure he will weather it as he has the rest.

I'm not here to talk about what Dawkins said, and whether it was right or wrong, and whether he's an "asset or a liability"--those are all ridiculous questions. My question for you all today is a much simpler, but I think more profound one.

You see, atheism--the lack of belief--is the only worldview I can think of that bears this type of scrutiny. Why is that?

I'll dive into some examples here, and then we'll look at why we are so ready to discredit nonbelief however we can.


We would never allow radicals to define any faith.


I once had a discussion with someone online that triggered this collection of conservative and Christian quotes. The point made was that maybe people don't trust atheists because so many public (and cyber) atheists are loud-mouthed assholes. Fair enough. Lots of people (believers and not) actually are loud-mouthed assholes.

But that doesn't explain why people take such umbrage to atheists. Atheism is the only worldview that we would allow to be defined by its loudest voices.

Consider Islam. Again and again, we see terror and horrific atrocities following in the wake of extremist Muslims, and yet, the refrain remains, "The vast majority of Muslims are peaceable, loving, kind, compassionate--they are just like you and me."

I don't take issue with that refrain at all. I'm sure it's quite valid. But look at the difference.

ISIS beheads a reporter, and we rush to remind ourselves that not all Muslims are violent.

Richard Dawkins says something without nuance on Twitter, and we rush to scream about how all atheists are evil and immoral.

Consider this quote from Pat Robertson:
"I know it sounds cruel, but if he's going to do something, he should divorce her and start all over again, but to make sure she has custodial care and somebody (is) looking after her."
What could Pat be talking about? Why, what do if your wife develops Alzheimer's, of course.

And yet, I don't see anyone screaming about how all Christians are immoral or faithless in their marriages.

What about this scenario about James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family?
Unruly wiener dogs are another thorn. Jim brags in one book about beating his dog for not heading to bed on time. “That tiny dog and I had the most vicious fight ever staged between man and beast. I fought him up one wall and down the other,” he writes. 
This was a description of a scene from Dobson's book The Strong-Willed child. Other wisdom from the Strong-Willed Child?
"Some strong-willed children absolutely demand to be spanked, and their wishes should be granted...[T]wo or three stinging strokes on the legs or buttocks with a switch are usually sufficient to emphasize the point, 'You must obey me.'" 
Why is this method necessary? Dobson already explained that in Dare to Discipline.
"[P]ain is a marvelous purifier. . . It is not necessary to beat the child into submission; a little bit of pain goes a long way for a young child. However, the spanking should be of sufficient magnitude to cause the child to cry genuinely."
 Pain is a marvelous purifier, when applied to children that don't do as you want them to. And yet, no one would rush out and scream that all Christians are child abusers.

What about this rant from Mark Driscoll?
“We live in a completely Pussified Nation.  We could get every man, real man as opposed to pussified James Dobson knock-off crying Promise Keeping homoerotic, worship loving mama’s boy sensitive emasculated neutered exact male replica evangellyfish, and have a conference in a phone book. 
“It all began with Adam, the first of the pussified nation, who kept his mouth shut and watched everything fall headlong down the slippery slide of hell/feminism when he shut his mouth and listened to his wife who thought Satan was a good theologian when he should have lead her and exercised his delegated authority as king of the planet. 
“As a result, he was cursed for listening to his wife and every man since has been his pussified sit quietly by and watch a nation of men be raised by bitter penis envying burned feministed single mothers who make sure that Johnny grows up to be a very nice woman who sits down to pee.”
Driscoll has now fallen from favor amid allegations that he was sexually indiscreet. But still, we would never claim that the average, ordinary Christian contains such vitriol in their hearts. We would say, "This man is extreme."

I have but one more example and we will move on.
Arizona Pastor Steven Anderson posted a sermon online in which he tells his congregation at the Faithful Word Baptist Church that birth control isn’t just turning women into “whores,” it’s downright destroying the country. 
Anderson warns his followers that contraception is “not something Christians should be practicing.” He notes that God purposely made childbearing painful to “punish women for their Original Sin” and stated that the husband “shall rule over thee.” 
He laments “It used to be a young woman, she gets married, she has children, and that’s her job. They literally count my wife as unemployed! She’s not unemployed, she doesn’t want to be employed. I mean, she’s a wife, she’s a mother.” 
He went on to say “not only does birth control do damage to women, it hurts their body if they’re using the pills. And it also affects their character, causing them to be idle, tattler, gossip, turning aside after Satan.” 
He then stated that birth control “promotes promiscuity, it promotes whoredom! Do not prostitute thy daughter to cause her to be a whore, lest the land fall to whoredom and the land become full of wickedness. And the United States today, fits that bill. If anybody has ever fit that bill, it’s the United States of America.”
Again, though, I don't hear the public at large screaming about how he represents all Christians.

Dawkins' logic is actually biblical.


I said I wouldn't talk about the tweet, but I lied.

In this infamous instance, Dawkins stated, in response to a hypothetical question, that of course the woman tweeting him should abort a hypothetical baby with Down's Syndrome, because it was the moral thing to do.

Dawkins went on to explain that he considered it moral because of the suffering the individual would endure throughout his or her life.

On one level, I find the thought repugnant. I know many people with the same syndrome who live happy and fulfilling lives. However, I have to be honest--I've had the same thought myself about other disorders, disorders that result in short lives, full of absolute agony. I've thought to myself, "You have the option. Why not spare this being the suffering?"

But I don't know if this is a new part of my grasp of morality as fluid, or if it's a holdover from my time spent in Christianity.

From Numbers 31:
31:14 And Moses was wroth with the officers of the host, with the captains over thousands, and captains over hundreds, which came from the battle. 
31:15 And Moses said unto them, Have ye saved all the women alive? 
31:16 Behold, these caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the LORD in the matter of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the LORD. 
31:17 Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. 
31:18 But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.
And again in Deuteronomy 2:
2:33 And the LORD our God delivered him before us; and we smote him, and his sons, and all his people.  
2:34 And we took all his cities at that time, and utterly destroyed the men, and the women, and the little ones, of every city, we left none to remain: 
When I was a young Christian, these passages perplexed me. Why would God even want little children killed? What purpose could that serve? They had no choice about the situation that they were in.

I asked my mother this question. I put it to numerous pastors and pastors wives over the years, and I always received a similar answer--God was actually saving them from suffering.

These children were corrupted by their parents' evil ways, you see, and so they were rescued by being killed before the age of innocence ended, allowing them a one way ticket to Heaven-land and end to their suffering here on earth.

The logic sounds remarkably similar, doesn't it?


Richard Dawkins is a man, not a movement.


Dawkins is a man. Only one man. He was elected as a face of atheism not by atheists, but by the media upon success of his books.

I believe he is a brilliant man. A talented author and scientist. But that's where it ends.

We do not have a public creed. We do not have leadership. We do not pay homage. Perhaps this is one of the "weaknesses" of our movement--because it's not centralized, because we believe matters of belief (or nonbelief) should be private and personal, we don't have a collective system of belief.

So why is this acceptable for atheism?


Well, the answer to that is simple: Sum up an entire movement, and all of the people within it, safely within the character of one individual, one human who like all humans is beautifully flawed, and you don't have to take the time to actually consider the merits of the movement itself.

You don't have to think about their points, or their arguments. You simply point to this one instance, and say, "Well, I don't want to be like that guy, now, do I?"

You can write off all of the individuals--the many, many, many, MANY individuals--by putting a face to them--a face that isn't theirs.

Atheists aren't exempt either.


While the public at large may not make these logical blunders with regards to worldviews besides nonbelief, we as atheists often do. We take the bad instances and use it to characterize all believers. That's no more logically sound than all atheists being painted with the same brush here--and it's done for the same reasons.

The truth is, the religious impulse is a natural, human impulse. It's a natural outgrowth of our capacity for reason, our ability to find patterns and our desire to know the answers.

Writing it off without taking the time to meet believers and understand them is just as wrong as the impulse that leads them to write us off, believing us immoral because they do not understand our morality.

We will not have true growth as a species until we begin to all look logically at the situation, and to begin to find the common ground--the things that we can all stand for. This means acknowledging things like that a secular government protects us all. That equal rights for everyone is the best way to protect all rights. That humans have a responsibility, to our world and to each other. These understandings can come from faith or reason (although I, personally, prefer the latter).

There is common ground. We would be foolish to overlook it, in either direction.

No comments:

Post a Comment