Let’s get snitty

Just to be thorough about it, I also disagree with Hemant Mehta. (I’m not crazy about his title, for one thing – it implies that atheists in general are not ‘friendly’ and perhaps that they are hostile and mean and crabby.) He starts out well, pointing out that ‘aggressive’ and ‘friendly’ atheists actually want the same things and aren’t as distinct as Stephen Prothero claims. But then…

The difference is that the “aggressive” types don’t care who they offend. They’ll go after religion in all its forms — it doesn’t matter if they criticize the Vatican or the local church down the street or your sweet neighbor who happens to be religious.

That just isn’t true. It just isn’t true that we ‘go after’ sweet people who happen to be religious. We do go after people who do horrible things for religious reasons – but that can’t be what Mehta meant by people who are sweet and happen to be religious. He has to have meant sweet people who are not made cruel by their religion. Well we don’t ‘go after’ people like that! We don’t refrain from disputing religious truth claims on the grounds that people like that exist – but that is not the same thing as ‘going after’ them. It does get pretty tiresome to have people constantly accusing us of being more sadistic than we in fact are.

The “friendly” types are willing to do some triage here. They’re not going to spend the same amount of energy going after a local pastor or national politician who happens to espouse a personal belief in a god. There are more important battles to fight.

But what has the local pastor done? It depends, doesn’t it. If the local pastor is just the local pastor, most ‘new’ atheists also don’t spend much energy going after her. The national politician is another matter – national politicians in a secular democracy really shouldn’t be ‘espousing’ a personal belief in a god, and it doesn’t take a whole lot of energy to say so. Of course there are more important battles to fight, but so what? We can multi-task.

I would much rather keep as allies those religious people who do things like support sound science, fight for equal rights for the GLBT community, and believe in separation of church and state.

But why is it one or the other? Why would religious people who support sound science, fight for equal rights for the GLBT community, and believe in separation of church and state stop doing those things merely because some atheists (or all atheists for that matter) are explicit about their atheism? I don’t believe for a second that they would. Who is that stupid and petty? People who support sound science, fight for equal rights for the GLBT community, and believe in separation of church and state are probably already not the kind of people to change all their views and actions because they’re in a snit. They might even be so reasonable and fair-minded and sensible that they really think atheists have every right to be public about their atheism. They might even be interested in the arguments!

I know others prefer a no-holds-barred approach, but I think that’s counterproductive when dealing with the people we want to reach out to the most — those who are on the fence.

What fence? Which fence are we talking about? And who’s ‘we’? What is this imaginary ‘we’ that accommodationists always have in mind? The always-right secular but friendly but atheist but civil but liberal but soft-spoken…Everyliberal? Or what? Why is there a ‘we’ who wants to reach out to people on the fence – why aren’t the people on the fence a ‘we’ who want to reach out to us, but find us too boring and anxious and timid to bother with? There’s something weirdly patronizing and de haut en bas about all this grand strategizing and we-invoking, as if all accommodationists were best buddies with David Axelrod or something. Why do the ‘friendly’ atheists think they have some heavy responsibility for what they perhaps think of as ‘the atheist community’ and how it appears to everyone else? I don’t know – but it makes me so huffy that I think I will become a conservative evangelical Republican, just to punish them.

62 Responses to “Let’s get snitty”