To try to distill what everyone’s saying over at Almost Diamonds, where a post on how deferential atheists need to be in society today ended up spiraling out into a larger discussion (as such conversations are wont to do) on whether reasonable theists are getting caught in the crossfire, the problems here as I see them are fourfold. This was originally going to be a comment in that thread, but it grew to mammoth proportions so I figured I needed a larger stage for it.
First, the mere knowledge that a person is an atheist is considered an affront against certain religious persons. This is as though simply by being able to live a non-religious life proves that one can be a good person without being a good Christian, so the religious who ascribe to the thought that people cannot be good without also being Christian need to project an air of superiority, of animosity, or of outright evil to reconcile this good atheist with their worldview. We have seen this innumerable times where we are painted as incapable of loving, lacking any kind of moral compass, or in possession of a nihilistic worldview. All of these smears are hate-filled invective that cast us as subhumans, and, if allowed to be taken to the next step, could result in violence against atheists. None of these aspersions are resultant of any evidence, and all of them are derived from a need to cast us as “others”, and subhuman.
Secondly, these religious folks are extraordinarily loud ones, and extraordinarily fundamentalist. They are the public face of the group, and are the ones you find most often running from blog to blog telling atheists that they’re inhuman unless they find God. These are the ones with which we clash daily. They are also the ones that cause us to say “religious” and “theists” as broad-brush statements. The interesting thing is, they are also the folks that go from blog to blog — two recent examples here include Zdenny and Daniel Maldonado — and jam their religions down our throats. You’ll hopefully notice by now that I never visit religious people’s homes (e.g. websites), and take a dump on their front porches, so to have them do likewise to me is galling, to say the absolute least. The only times I engage with theists are when they approach us where we discuss our daily lives and our belief systems with our peers, and tell us that our science is fallacious because their Revealed Truth said so a few thousand years ago.
Thirdly, not every theist is as irrational as the people who are actively trying to abridge our rights, however they are also not stepping up to the plate when people say things like “atheists are worthless fuck stains and should die”. They do, on the other hand, get the vapors when someone dares to suggest that all religious folks feel the same way. In the thread over at Almost Diamonds, you’ll see a so-called reasonable theist jump as soon as he realizes Lou gets paint on him in his characterization of religion as a whole as damaging to human rights. I know a number of very reasonable theists who are able to reconcile their belief systems with the universe as it exists and as science has come to understand it; and this is fine. As an agnostic atheist I do allow for the sliver of possibility that something “caused” all this; I just don’t feel the evidence as presented at the moment by theists is compelling (or even truly amounts to anything worth considering in fact). So, to those that do not directly attempt to abridge the rights of gays, the faithless, women, or any other group that is not WASPy enough for their liking, I apologize in advance when you get tarred with the same brush as the whackjobs, but if that’s the case, then you’re obviously not doing enough to distance yourself from said whackjobs. Get in the fight or get out of the way!
Fourth, the religious who are more temperate of atheism are providing cover for the extremists by suggesting every time one of us gets upset that we’re being unreasonable in our targeting. The big problem is, that religion is the direct cause of the more intemperate entities’ belief systems upon which they hang their prejudices. So, as a direct result of believing that the Bible is absolutely true, people’s rights are abridged unjustly. To those of you who believe in any part of revealed scripture as absolute truth, regardless of which parts you believe, I’m afraid that you’re close enough that, as I said in point three, you’re going to get some paint on you. If you believe a god incarnated as a man in order to commit suicide and resurrect himself to appease himself and redeem you all by blood sacrifice by proxy, then you’re unfortunately already believing in six or seven things that have no direct evidence and are lending credibility to the whackjobs who think Leviticus gives them an excuse to hate on gays and midgets and fortune tellers and shrimp. And these whackjobs are the same folks that are responsible for every misconception about atheists that exists and is propagated today.
Interestingly, one cannot honestly flip this argument to paint the strident atheists as capable of the same — the more strident atheists are not engaged in abridging people’s rights, only in pushing back the encroachments on the separation of church and state, and in directly affronting the religious in hopes that mocking them might open some of the wafflers’ eyes as to how ridiculous the whole philosophy is. Mockery and an attempt to maintain the secular political system for all parties involved does not amount to abridging anyone’s rights. Also, since atheists are in the minority, and this is indeed a civil rights cause wherein atheists need to speak up and be counted and by our numbers win some justice, if the so-called New Atheists win over anyone on the fence, great. If the so-called accommodationists win over anyone, great. If the reasonable theists show the extremists as being merely extreme and the concept of religion (fictitiously based as it is) as being viable, then these reasonable theists are unfortunately as much a part of the problem as the fundies.
So what are the solutions to these problems? How can the solutions be enacted without unfairly punishing the innocent theists? Or can any such injustice be avoided at all? Please remember, we are fighting to be heard, to be understood, and to be accepted as human beings with all the same capabilities and rights and obligations as those of you that are in the majority. The parallels between other civil rights movements are obvious, and the dangers are as palpable to me right now as I’m sure they are/were to any gay or black or women’s rights activists.