If atheists spend time in religious public forums, and engage with religious believers… we’re picking fights.
And if atheists don’t engage with religious believers, and spend most or all of our time with other atheists — we’re living in an echo chamber.
Is there any way we can win?
There was a recent piece in the Religion section of the Huffington Post by pastor/ chaplain Eliot Daley: Welcome, Atheists. But, Really, Why Are You Here? Daley seemed puzzled by the phenomenon of atheists who read his columns and comment critically on them. So in this piece, he asked atheists, “I mean, really, what are you doing cruising the Religion department?”
I’m going to leave it to someone else to do the line-by-line fisking of this piece. I’d love to do it myself, but my time is even more crunched than usual this week, and I just can’t manage it. (Oh, okay. When you bat your eyes at me that way, I can’t resist. The very quick- and- dirty version: 1: Our disagreement is with the harm done by religion as it often plays out — and with the truth claim that God exists. 2: An interventionist God is not a straw man — it’s believed in by billions of believers. 3: Yes, we’re familiar with the notion, most famously stated by Arthur C. Clarke, that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic — but that doesn’t mean it’s actually magic. 4: Yes, reason and emotion/ intuition are connected in many ways — but that doesn’t make the distinction between them “obsolete.” If you think it’s obsolete, then the next time you’re seriously ill, go to a faith healer instead of a medical doctor trained in rational methods of determining what your illness is and how it can best be treated. 5: If God is really real and atheists are simply tone-deaf to his existence… then show us some good evidence that he does exist. You can show deaf people evidence that sound exists — but believers have yet to offer any good evidence that God exists, either to atheists or to other believers with radically contradictory notions of what God is. And finally, 6: Atheists engage with religious believers for lots of different reasons. See below.)
But I really can’t do a thorough, line-by-line critique of everything this piece gets wrong about atheists and atheism. I just don’t have time today. And the main point I want to make is this:
When it comes to this question of engagement with believers, there is absolutely no way atheists can win.
If atheists don’t engage with religious believers — if we spend all or most of our time hanging around with other atheists — we routinely get accused of being an echo chamber. We get accused of living in a bubble, cutting ourselves off from anyone who disagrees with us. The mere fact that we even have atheist communities, both in the flesh and online, gets us accused of this.
And if atheists do engage with religious believers — if we spend some of our time hanging around with religious believers in public forums, making a case for why the god hypothesis is probably mistaken — we get accused of picking a fight. Of raining on the parade. Of, in Daley’s words, playing “the proverbial skunk at the garden party.” Of enjoying the spectacle of a bloodbath: in Daley’s words, “perhaps they are like the small percentage of NASCAR fans who freely admit that they go the races primarily in hopes of seeing a really hairy wreck.”
We can’t win. Continue reading “Echo Chamber or Picking Fights: Atheists Just Can't Win”