As if we were compelled to march in step

Paul Braterman doesn’t like being told what he can say. I know the feeling.

(Mind you, there are some things I think people shouldn’t say. I think most people think that, whether they admit it or not. I frown on personal insults. But I also know the feeling when people try to exercise close-up control of what I say.)

I’m an atheist, and I’m feeling insulted

Insulted by Greta Christina’s article, “9 Answers to Common Questions for Atheists – So You Don’t Insult Us By Asking.” Insulted by the condescending and preachy answers offered on my behalf. Insulted that the author presumes to speak on my behalf at all, as if she were the privileged custodian of some kind of atheist credo. But above all, insulted by the suggestion that I am so intellectually fragile as to find the questions insulting.

I’ve never liked Greta’s air of being a privileged custodian of all the subjects she’s taken under her wing (or into custody, so to speak). I never voted for her for that role.

Ok, then, here are the questions to which Christina objects (I think it’s fair use in a review like this to just copy them), which she doesn’t want to hear again because she believes she has answered them once and for all, and, for what they’re worth, my own answers, which I promise you are a lot shorter than hers:

  1. How can you be moral without believing in God?
  2. How do you have any meaning in your life?
  3. Doesn’t it take just as much faith to be an atheist as it does to be a believer?
  4. Isn’t atheism just a religion?
  5. What’s the point of atheist groups? How can you have a community for something you don’t believe in?
  6. Why do you hate God? (Or ‘Aren’t you just angry at God?’)
  7. But have you read the Bible, or some other Holy Book, heard about some supposed miracle, etc?
  8. What if you’re wrong?
  9. Why are you atheists so angry?

Some of them are very well-worn, of course, and answering them doesn’t seem to make any difference to anything, so if you spend a lot of time arguing for atheism you get tired of them. It doesn’t follow however that any one answer is definitive, not even if it’s Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris uttering it. Actually especially not, because they share that unfortunate habit of acting like privileged custodians of some kind of atheist credo.

Braterman gives his own, non-custodial, non-definitive answers to the questions.

Saving the worst till last

But maybe you could do a little Googling before you start asking us questions that we’ve not only fielded a hundred times before, but that have bigotry and dehumanization and religious privilege embedded in the very asking.

No, I do not expect people to do an online search before I condescend to talk to them about my beliefs, or the lack of them. Perhaps, after all, they want a conversation, are interested in seeing how an actual person responds, want to get to know me better, or simply want to spend time over a pint. And I detest the collective “we”; it should be obvious from the above examples that the way I field these questions is very different from the way someone else might. We are, after all, discussing questions about how we as individuals view the world, rather than questions about how the world is. So it is the height of arrogance for any of us to speak for the atheist community, as if we were compelled to march in step.

Well guess what, bub, we are compelled to march in step!

Hahaha just kidding, but there are those who think we are. I prefer the other kind.

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