Atheists are just another minority group
So wow, just happened to glance at the traffic for yesterday and thanks to my recent Molly win and Pharyngula front page link, I now have a flood of people coming to check out this blog for what is most likely the first time.
I am very humbled by this and as such I decided I might as well do a special post as a welcome gift to all of those who made the journey over to see what was up. I can’t promise that these posts will always be things that catch everyone’s interest, but I do hope to post things worthy of your time spent reading them.
And so, given the nature of where I have spent so long wasting valuable blogging time SIWOTIing, I figured I’d do my first post strictly about atheism rather than simply coming from the point-of-view of a deeply humanist scientist.
So here goes:
There has been a large kerfuffle surrounding that most dastardly of creations: New Atheists. New Atheists are every form of nasty thing you want them to be, they hate God and believers, they’re trying to destroy everything beautiful in the world, and more importantly they are rude, brutal and savage with uncontrollable rages, hateful, dismissive, mean, bigoted, angry, abrasive, etc…
They are radicals who must be stopped.
This has of course confused the fuck out of said “New Atheists” and atheists in general because many of these “radical” and “cruel” leaders are actually pretty approachable and soft-spoken. People like Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers are not particularly bombastic and simply calmly lay out the facts and don’t like to suffer fools by giving people credit where they deserve none.
And beyond that, the way the arguments ran, it quickly became clear that the very act of speaking up for oneself as an atheist is all that is needed to be labeled one of these jerkish New Atheist “dogmatist” “fundamentalist” etceteras.
And a lot of atheists have been confused by this. How does this premise even work? How is the basic stating of one’s viewpoints or even one’s existence (in the case of being say atheist at a funeral or in a classroom) in general some huge affront and how are they somehow “shrill” and “unfair” simply for existing or speaking up one’s own views and the reality of the situation on a subject?
To a group that’s often white and male in its makeup (owing to its youth as an organized movement), this was incredibly foreign and perplexing, but it need not be.
Cause atheism is going through what many other minority movements have gone through over the years, fighting many of the same intractable battles.
And this is not meant to dismiss (oh, atheists are just some minority group ignore them), but rather as a reason to triumph.
See, the dismissal of any criticism of a dominant structure as “radical”, “angry”, and “hateful”, being struck with constant demands to “tone it down” no matter what tone one presents and being constantly told “we would believe what you said if you were nicer about it” no matter how nice and differential, having one’s leaders no matter how soft-spoken and fair labeled as equivalent to the worst bigots of the other side, having anyone who speaks up immediately termed a radical, and so forth?
These are things that all minority groups have had to deal with in their struggles for equality and their struggles show atheists a valuable bit of information they can use.
First up that this is a tactic used against all minority groups to silence them. Blacks speaking about racism are always deemed to be angry and trying to be “out to get whitey” or otherwise “quick to anger over nothing. Any feminist who brings up any basic feminism 101 subject such as consent, male privilege, or the rape culture is going to be dismissed as a “feminazi” and told to be “less angry” by the haters. A gay who dares counter-protest a collection of haters will be termed a violent mob seeking to kill the haters. And transwomen who exist are already seen as “flaunting their lifestyle” and being a radical menace simply as a way of life.
It’s the standard response to a group that’s pointing out active oppressions against a minority group and the ways that the dominant group is given unearned cultural dominance and respect above and beyond the reality of the situation. I.e. it’s an attempt to silence truth-telling and it’s pulled out anytime a minority group has gained enough traction from its visibility standpoint to start being a threat to the status quo.
As such, atheists should feel proud and happy that they are starting to have enough of an impact worldwide that there is the beginning of a concerted campaign of push-back against them.
Secondly, the other big thing we can learn is whether or not these groups are right.
Is it better to be conciliatory to the oppressors, silence muzzles, resist truth-telling and abandon “radical” leaders for one the oppressor class will like better?
In fact, history favors the “New Atheists” and the campaign of truth-telling no matter what. Every single revolutionary leader of a civil rights movement or an education movement was termed a radical in their era. MLK Jr was a vile communist rat against the very nature of America, Nelson Mandela was a damn dirty terrorist with no thought to the livelihoods of proper citizenry, Andrea Dworkin and Gloria Steinem were unrepentant man-haters, Harvey Milk was a vile bigot trying to destroy the American family, Elizabeth Cody Stanton wanted to destroy the American home, Abraham Lincoln was destroying America.
No matter what, leaders in their times were characterized as vile, unthinkable monsters, no matter what they said, how they said it, or how kind and forgiving or pointed and reasoned they were about it. Furthermore their followers were always treated as hateful, reverse-bigoted, etc… no matter how willing and able they were to take the slings and arrows.
Look at the current anti-gay bigotry with calls to death and the taking away of rights and gay people still called homo-fascist, not because they rise to violence in the wake of the continued attacks against them, but because they dare point this shit out.
And yes, history will later pick the “nicest” leader out of the pack and claim that their nicety was what won the day, but said “nice leaders” were never seen as nice in their times and were not conciliatory, but rather spoke calmly and collectedly about the reality that is and tried to educate and improve people and call out the bigotries against them.
Hell, for another modern example, look at the Tea Party-led freakout of “the NAACP is a reverse-racist organization” for daring to comment about racial inequalities and the almost cartoonish racism of the Tea Party. Minority groups speaking up receive this backlash all the time.
And as seen, there is no magical formula whereby one will finally be seen as “nice” enough.
One can only speak truth to power as the “New Atheists” do.
There may be an infinite amount of styles of speaking that truth to power, conciliatory, brash, scholarly, conversational, argumentative, mocking, simple statement, etc…
But the important thing is simply to keep on keeping on.
And that’s the lesson my fellow atheists should take to heart.
Atheism is just another minority group.
And that means that the New Atheists are right about how to advance their views and bring that aspect of reality into sharp focus.
And it means one can more easily dismiss the cries of “go slow” and “ease up”, because one needs those who speak truth to power no matter what in order to change anything.
If anything, ramp it up and fight on, because the fact that they have started to fight back is a very good sign.