“Keep it up and even if you do get my job, you’ll never run this place. You’ll die in that corner office: a mid-level account executive with a little bit of hair, who women go home with out of pity. And you know why? Because no one will like you.”
-Don Draper – from the first episode of Mad Men
This is an open letter to all Athiests, but most especially the “New Athiests”, “Aggressive Athiests and whatever other monikers you guys are either using or being maligned with.
While not an Athiest myself, I am with you on most issues that matter. I am pro-science in all cases. When religion does things like spread teachings in Africa that AIDS is cured by laying on of hands or by sex with virgins, I am as appalled as you are. When the RCC preaches against condom use and other types of safe sex, I am absolutely outraged. When Christian groups in the U.S. lobby against teaching evolution in biology class, or for teaching creationism as science, I am just as embarrassed to live here as you are.
If, heavens forbid, the culture wars ever erupted into violent sides, I would probably be on the same side you are on. What you fail to realize though is that so would a lot of religious people.
You are an athiest. I am happy for you. You want to spread your message, go right ahead, you have the right to be an evangelist just like everyone else. But this is what I want to talk to you about, my friend. There is a good way and a bad way to spread a message and right now, the message that you are sending is not so much that you don’t believe in God and that is OK. It is not even that you don’t believe in god, and want a secular government.
Your message is that you don’t believe in God, but you DO believe in being an asshole about not believing in God.
Lets take a look at some of the slogans and images that you guys send around, and which you seem to be so tickled by:
“Morality is doing what is right regardless of what you are told. Religion is doing what you are told regardless of what is right.”
Ooooooooh. Thats deep man. Here’s the thing though. Doing what you are told regardless of what is right has nothing to do with religion. It happens within religions and it happens outside of religions. It happens period. If anything, I would argue that religion has moved a lot more people to put themselves in harms way in the name of doing what is right despite what they have been told a lot more than most Athiests would be comfortable with. For every kiddie-diddling Priest, there is another one who is staying on in a hostile zone where even the UN and aid agencies have bailed out, so that he can do gods work and tend to the sick and poor. For every dipshit who thinks that evolution needs to be taken out of our schools, there is a nun or even just a regular pious individual going to offer aid to those in need. Sometimes they are even the same person.
We could go on and on deconstructing these, but really there are two points I want to make:
- You have confused religion with a host of things that it is not. Religion is not anti-science, most people that are religious are also pro-science and accept science as evidence over religious doctrine. In Buddhism for instance, the Dalai Lama has insisted that when religion and science come head to head, science must be held true. Religion is not about hate, it has been used to promote hate, but it has also been used to promote love and peace. We don’t get rid of hammers just because they can be used to crack a skull. Religion is not fundamentalism. Fundamentalism and literal interpretation of scripture is not part and parcel to religion for MOST people. Even Augustine said so!
By taking your the worst aspects of the worst religious people, and then doggedly insisting that this IS religion, you have made yourselves absolutely useless in the public debate at large because you simply refuse to engage in any kind of understanding of what religion is to most people.
This kind of straw man enemy is no different than those created by political parties or the very religions that you argue against. It is good to rally the troops against, easy to excite the base with, gains the attention of many smart and angry young people looking for something to be smart and angry about. It also makes you completely unsuited for appealing to the populace at large who can see right through your straw man.
- The argument of “I am in the right and everyone must do what I say” never works well, even when you are in fact right. Athiests are right on SO many social issues, but rather than trying to engage in an honest discourse with people, you seem much happier to celebrate your righteousness with smarmy slogans and vitriol. If in the case of fighting against the anti-evolution forces of the Christian right, you were able to dialogue with people from from the Christian left, center, and yes even the right who also believe in evolution (more than you think) you would get way further. Lots of non-athiests who are agnostic, or spiritual, or even members of organized religions agree with you on many of these points.
In short, you have a lot of important things to say but as long as you continue to prenent yourselves like obnoxious zealots far keener to argue than discuss and talk at rather than with, you will actually only set yourselves further back and make the word “Athiest” into an even more misunderstood word than it already is. It wont be because you are wrong necessarily. It will just be because no one likes you.