Your mission, should you choose to accept it

“New” atheism is often accused of proselytizing, but I don’t think that’s right.

It’s not really proselytizing. We don’t have the explicit goal of turning everyone atheist. We don’t even really have the implicit goal of doing that. We know it’s vanishingly unlikely, and not necessarily desirable (most of us know that – maybe all of us do – it probably depends on exactly what is meant). Our goals are short of that – speaking broadly.

The most basic is probably to humble the claims somewhat – to chip away at the public assumption that there is nothing dubious about theism – that it’s perfectly reasonable to talk about God as one would talk about Gordon Brown or Sarah Palin. It is to remind everyone that belief is not necessarily the default option – that there are reasons not to believe – that the reasons not to believe are better than the reasons to believe – that it is better to restrict belief to claims that can be tested and investigated and that any claims that are officially beyond the competence of science are thereby rendered at least less reliable.

So, related to that and stemming from it, another goal is to push back against all this incessant public goddy talk and “faith”-mongering. It is, frankly, to discredit public goddy talk – to make it more obvious that it is not likely to be true – in an effort to reduce it. It is an effort to get all this god stuff out of our faces.

Now that perhaps does look like proselytizing in the sense meant. But I don’t care. We’ve had years of this nonsense, and we’re tired of it. We’re not raiding churches – but we’re arguing with the Washington Post and the BBC and the Guardian and National Prayer Day. Should we stop doing that because it may be true that on average religion makes people happy? No.

Another, overlapping goal is to make more space for atheists – to de-delegitimize atheism – to de-other it – to point out there are lots of us and we have the better case so stop trying to bully us. It is also to point out and rebuke the lies people tell about us – unblushing brazen hardened lies.

The very presence and energy of the lies is a sign that this goal, at the very least, is hard to gainsay. Atheism is neither criminal nor immoral, yet it is steadily and noisily demonized. That points to something poisonous about theism. We do get to resist – we do get to call out the lies – we do get to defend ourselves.

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