Because they know it teases

Buried assumptions at work.

I immediately begin trying out Dawkins’ appeal in polite company. At dinner parties or over drinks, I ask people to declare themselves. “Who here is an atheist?” I ask. Usually, the first response is silence, accompanied by glances all around in the hope that somebody else will speak first. Then, after a moment, somebody does, almost always a man, almost always with a defiant smile and a tone of enthusiasm. He says happily, “I am!” But it is the next comment that is telling. Somebody turns to him and says: “You would be.”


“Because you enjoy pissing people off.”

“Well, that’s true.”

It’s clear enough what we’re supposed to get from all that. One, it’s almost always a man who pipes up because men are pugnacious and competitive and obnoxious, whereas women are more tactful and co-operative and sweet and kind. Two, atheists are atheists because they enjoy pissing people off. Three, atheism of course pisses people off. Well, fuck that. I’m a woman, and I am not more tactful and co-operative and sweet and kind, as anyone who knows me will knock over chairs and hatstands in the rush to confirm. More to the point, I’m a woman and I hate like hell the idea that women are too nice to be atheist or rational or skeptical or anything else in that department of the store.

But more significant (and silly) is the assumption that atheism naturally and automatically pisses people off. That’s a very parochial assumption. Atheism does piss off a lot of people in the US, but the US isn’t the world, and in some places atheism is more boring and taken for granted than irritating. The existence of this unexamined assumption is one reason the ‘new Atheists’ are right that atheists need to speak up more.

6 Responses to “Because they know it teases”