17 May 2012

7 Myths About New Atheists: Myth #1 – Atheists Are Angry

During my hiatus I watched plenty of old and new debates and discussions between atheists and believers. Time and time again, I see the same misguided platitudes repeated by the critics of the so-called "new atheism", and they only serve to stymie the discussion. I suppose I could be pigeonholed as part of this new atheist movement, so I've compiled a list of 7 myths that believers (and occasionally, fellow atheists) have about what Jerry Coyne refers to as "gnu atheism".


Myth #1: Atheists are angry 

Atheists are not, in general, angry people. Hemant Mehta's blog is called The Friendly Atheist for a reason: he's trying to show people that you can hold an unpopular view or critique ideas that are often shielded from skeptical inquiry, and that doesn't make you an asshole. I'm not saying there aren't some really angry atheists out there, who are just angry all the time at everyone who isn't like them – but they're not representative of most atheists any more than raving fundies like the Westboro Baptist Church are representative of most believers.

I often hear that atheists are angry at religion, angry at believers, angry at the church, or whatever. When I discussed The God Delusion with a local pastor, his first words were that there was "a lot of anger" in the book. But it's a half-truth, one designed to ignore the substance of our concerns by focusing on the perceived "tone". 

Being angry isn't necessarily a bad thing. And indeed, new atheists are angry about some very specific things – things we perceive to be injustices. Things like:
  • Conservatives and fundamentalists trying to (and sometimes succeeding) trample on the civil rights of women and homosexuals in the name of their religion
  • Catholic missionaries (and even the Pope!) telling people in AIDS-raved Africa that condom use is sinful
  • The incessant assault on science, including the frequent attempts to alter science curricula in public schools, by religious creationists
  • People of faith trying to rewrite the laws of the nation to give their particular beliefs special status or privilege
  • The discrimination and marginalization of non-believers and/or religious minorities by the religious majority
  • The use of war, terrorism and coercion in the name of religion
I could go on, but the here's the point: if you're not angry about these sorts of injustices, you're probably part of the problem. Believers who don't think the above issues are injustices would never tolerate these kinds of things from other religions. Case in point: the Muslim community center in New York. Local Muslims, who had absolutely nothing to do with the 9/11 attack, were ostracized by angry Christians when they tried to build a community center a few blocks from Ground Zero. Christians were so busy conflating all Muslims with the miniscule number of them who are suicidal jihadists that they wanted to deny them their constitution right to build a community center that was fully compliant with all of New York's zoning laws. And yet if we dare protest the erection of the 10 Commandments in front of a court house, or protest the leading of public schoolchildren in prayer, or want young gay couples to be able to attend prom together, or want atheists in the military to have the same privileges as believers... you can expect nothing less than a full-on shitstorm of outrage from Christian conservatives.

We're angry about certain injustices perpetrated in the name of religion, but we're still as nice and normal as anyone else that you'll meet day to day. And unlike religious liberals who agree with us on those injustices, we see religion itself – or, more specifically, the erroneous idea that one can attain knowledge through faith – as being the root of the problem. Nobody likes to hear their cherished beliefs criticized. But we believe that the free and open criticism of ideas – all ideas – is integral to a productive public discourse. That doesn't make us angry – it makes us thinkers.


The obligatory related video from NonStampCollector:

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