What makes all these pious advice-givers think that we (we gnus) can’t bring people together (or build bridges and help people cross them) around shared values? What makes them think that gnu atheism is obviously and inherently and always a coalition-preventer? If I wanted to bring people together or build bridges with others (which I don’t, because I’m a nerd), I would just do it. I don’t want to because I’m a nerd, but if I did want to, I could. I could find out how to do it, and do it. I don’t have two heads, or twelve legs, or eyes that shoot sparks.
What do they think we do, anyway – quiz every human being we come within ten feet of about their relgious beliefs? Ask everybody we meet if they are theists? Wear ATHEIST on our shirts at all times no matter what? Have big giant neon signs securely fastened to the backs of our heads, that say ATHEIST – ATHEIST – ATHEIST?
In other words do they really think we can’t form or join a coalition with a bunch of people to do a particular thing without dragging atheism into it? If so, what the hell makes them think that?
And then, the bit about wanting to convert everyone is wrong too.
When a large and vocal number of atheists say that their number one goal is convincing people to abandon their faith, it comes as no surprise that our community is construed as extreme and aggressive.
I don’t think a large and vocal number of atheists do say that. I don’t say that. Here’s what I do say: I say 1) I want atheism to be an available option for people who want it, and 2) I want people to abandon the expectation that religious claims will be treated with automatic deference.
In other words I want us to be able to say what’s wrong with religious claims, instead of having to smile politely or look at the ceiling or examine the gravy for termites while everyone else is “saying grace.” I want to get away from the situation where public religious claims are fenced off from disagreement.
I want, in that sense, to put religious people on the defensive. That’s aggressive, if you like. I want people who like to talk nonsense in public – whether John Haught or Francis Collins – to realize that they are going to get pushed back now.
But that’s all. I don’t want to convert them. I want conversion to be wide-open to them, not hidden away in the back attic under five rolls of geometric-pattern wallpaper and a rusty trike. I want it to be right out there in the open, where they can grab it if they want it. But I don’t want to force it on them. And if they want to join up with me to fight violence against women, why, I’ll join up with them – or I would if I weren’t a nerd.