Why don’t atheists just shut up and stay home? (a repost)

A repost. I’m completely swamped at work (this does happen occasionally), and am unlikely to participate terribly much in blogospheric shenanigans for the next few days. So, enjoy one of my earlier posts, whose points still stand. The comments on the original are also worth reading, though for completely different reasons.

This question was asked by an audience member at about 116:20 in the Hitchens v Turek debate posted yesterday: “If there is no god, why do you spend your whole life trying to convince people that there isn’t? Why won’t you just stay home?”

The audience member who posed this question was clearly on the side of Turek through the debate — applauding him heartily, crossing his arms and giving not a whit of applause when Hitchens spoke. It could be that he said “why WOULDN’T you just stay home”, he was not miked and the question was slightly unclear. However, I strongly suspect it was posed as an imperative as above, and if it wasn’t, I also suspect the questioner would not take offense at this characterization.

In a moment of synchronicity, @josefjohann tweeted thusly:

I think the twitter #atheism crowd is doing it for sport. we won’t save the world, we prob. won’t change minds. so what does it accomplish?

At the same time as Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum flog their book on the book circuit wherein they accuse “New Atheists” of being too outspoken, a British debate show called The Big Question talks about atheism as being an intolerant belief system, and the atheists who show up to defend their lack of faith are often drowned out even by the host who’s obviously made up his mind as to the topic of the show prior to a single atheist speaking.

While we’re being told not to speak up, the scientific advances that have been made in the name of reason and rationality are being co-opted right under our noses. An ostensibly ex-atheist Christian by the name of Dr. Andrew Parker, a biologist at Oxford University, who evidently works on the side for the Templeton Foundation (a religious organization that offers prizes to theists who write papers that support the bible and sound sciencey enough to fool the general populace), wrote a book claiming that the Bible is scientifically accurate — in an effort to post-hoc fit everything we’ve learned about the universe into the Biblical framework, claiming that Bible has been right about all these scientific discoveries all along, if you only look at each verse sideways and squint real hard. One of the examples Dr. Parker gives is that the phrase, “let there be light”, refers to the evolution of the eye. That’s right, there’s only light if you can see, so that’s when God designed the eye. You have to ignore the fact that, apparently, eyes would have to have evolved long before land animals were created. Before plants, even, in fact. Right there in Parker’s explanation of Genesis being scientifically accurate, God would have to have done things in the wrong order for his hypothesis to be correct. It’s shameful.

In the States, evangelical Christians like Francis Collins are appointed to positions of influence over scientific matters, and when atheists demand that the separation of church and state is honoured, and/or Collins refused the position of head of the NIH, theists claim that our opposition to him is entirely due to him being a Christian.

Children die while their parents pray over their prostrate bodies rather than taking them to hospitals where medical science can save their lives. And when they are convicted of negligence, the fact that they were doing what their religion prescribes, apparently absolves them of any sin from their direct actions killing their children, and they get a slap on the wrist at worst.

So in the face of how prevalent religion is in our society, in the face of how much power and benefit they confer their own, why don’t we atheists just go home, sit down, and shut up about our beliefs, while the religious folks go about their business of running our countries in a theocratic manner? Why don’t we just allow everyone to believe in their God and proselytize and witness and convert (and even grade one another on how many they manage to convert!), while we kick our feet up and enjoy our godless solitude from the privacy of our own homes? Why not stay, so to speak, “in the closet“?

I can’t answer for all of us, but I can answer for myself.

Religious folks, despite already being in the majority, fight daily to push their religions further into the public sphere, to push back the separation of church and state that most democracies wisely build in. They have TV shows and radio shows where they are free to talk about their deities. They talk trash about atheists, telling people that they are incapable of morals, that they are incapable of love, that they are as bad as Stalin or Pol Pot or Mao Tse Tung. They do so both in the privacy of their own homes, as is their right, and they do so from the pulpits of their congregations, as is their right. Their smears may be wrong, pig-headed, and discriminatory, but they have the right to say them. But these smears go unchallenged if atheists are silent.

We atheists have been silent for a very long time; our voices are understandably rusty. For every encroachment into our personal space — for every incentive that discriminates against faithless — for every demand that people be allowed to share their love of God with others — we are being told to shut up, to stay silent, to dare not demand the same right to share our love of reason, our love of logic and our love of science. We do not speak up to evangelize atheism, for that is antithetical to our position, and we have bigger issues presently — buffering an outright attack on us by the religious.

Your right to swing your fist ends at the point of my nose, yet when your fists connect with the noses of atheists we are told to accept it and dare not swing back. I am tired of being a punching bag. I am tired of being told that I am immoral, that I am evil, that I am an abomination against society.

That is why I do not merely allow people to preach their faith on my doorstep without an answer. And that is why, when I AM at home, I reserve the right to occasionally shut the door on their faces. And that is why when I am NOT at home, I reserve the right to counter people’s vociferous shouting or unfair double standards or ridiculous pandering or antiscientific nonsense with my voice — rusty though it may be. I reserve the right to scream out, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it any more!

My voice is the only weapon I have against this encroachment and viral spread of religion and antiscientific thinking. And short of death, my voice will not be silenced.

Why don’t atheists just shut up and stay home? (a repost)

18 thoughts on “Why don’t atheists just shut up and stay home? (a repost)

  1. 2

    Very true.

    I think the “debate” here stems from comparisons to rights’ movements in days gone by; atheists are telling other atheists, “Be peaceful! Don’t yell or scream, that belittles our argument and makes us look worse! Peaceful, non-violent resistance!” And you know? There’s a good point to that; it DOES make a very powerful argument, and it does work.

    The problem is that this situation is different.

    Atheists are not being violently oppressed or denied any specific freedoms from a governmental body, we are being denied freedoms from a religious body which, in turn, is actively trying to take over the governmental body. It’s a battle of ideologies, a battle that can only be won through active effort, not pacifism and letter-writing. It is a movement, we do need to gain support and let people know that we’re here. And yes, it would be nice if we also let them know that we’re not violent, angry people. But to suggest that we need to be “nicer” is to completely ignore our actual actions: we ARE talking, we ARE debating, we ARE snarkily pointing out the religious contradictions, foibles, and complete disregard for civil law, scientific advancement, and common sense. But we are NOT throwing pipe bombs, rioting, chanting, marching, fighting, hurting, killing.

    Ours IS a peaceful protest, but the religious groups try to make us look like monsters. That, in turn, causes members of our own movement to tell us to turn it down a notch. Turn what down? Our voices? Our facts? Our mountains of peer-reviewed evidence, historically and scientifically accurate? I’m only going to type this once, so pay attention:




    If Hitchens is the most violent atheist they can name, then I am fine with that. Here’s a man who’s tongue could slay dragons, but have you ever seen him burn a Christian? Throw a Molotov cocktail? Swing a crowbar at riot police? I certainly haven’t.

    No atheist worth his or her salt is going to tone down an argument just because someone else thinks we should.

    You can’t turn off a fact just because you think it’s impolite.

  2. 3

    One more reason to speak: sitting in the pew next to that questioner is someone who’s decided, on his own logic, that his religion doesn’t make sense to him any more and there most likely isn’t a god.

    But if he leaves the church he leaves family and friends who will likely ostracize him. There’s nobody he can talk to about his lack of belief because he’s the only one who feels that way.

    And then one day he opens up a newspaper and reads about some guy saying the same thing right out loud, standing his ground and even being backed up by others. Maybe he passes a billboard on the way to work.

    I was that kid in the pew once; I’d like to think I can be the public example of Life After Church too.

  3. 5

    Why don’t Christians ever obey Matthew 6:6, which tells them to go pray in a closet in secret? Seems like they’re the ones who ought to stay home and shut up.

    And why should we shut up? Because superstitious idiots are scared we might be right? Because we’re uppity? Because these delicate little snowflakes don’t like to be offended or made uncomfortable by being confronted with new ideas? Screw that noise.

  4. 8

    Fair enough, Helena. It’s certainly a lot more aggressive as a future indicative, though. More like a demand than an inquiry, despite the impossibility of it being imperative.

  5. 9

    Your right to swing your fist ends at the point of my nose…

    I utterly hate that cliche. Situationally and legally, that just doesn’t work.

    The definition of “assault” in law includes threatening gestures, and any honest cop will promptly arrest every person he or she sees swinging a fist at a face unless persuaded that move came as part of a game, street theater, or the like.

    If a fist swings towards my nose, and I see it in time, situationally things will get weird. Beyond that, prognostications become a little vague: kids, don’t try this experiment at home or anywhere else, okay?

    Otherwise, an excellent spiel, btw!

  6. 10

    Pierce: we all have our pet peeves. One of mine is the phrase “pet peeve”.

    How about — “your right to swing your fist ends when the vector of your fist approximates a direction and speed that it might conceivably intersect with my nose, if our spacial coordinates were slightly different”?

  7. 11

    Jason – Did that actually work when you were getting hassled on the playground?

    Me, I got thrown out of trig class for non-mathematical reasons – but I woulda been all over yer case for misspelling “spatial”…

  8. 12

    All these extra eyes sure do mean I’m getting caught out on lots of typos and other mistakes I shouldn’t, by rights, ever make being an English major.

    Then again, I never graduated. One French credit shy of a BA (Eng). Even still, I’ll blame the Kraken rum and insane workloads.

  9. 15

    Helena wrote the following: ‘“won’t” is future indicative & “wouldn’t” is present subjunctive. It is impossible to have an imperative in a question.’

    While grammatically, you are indeed correct, meaning can bend the strictness of grammar. Specifically, while this question the woman asked may not have grammatically been an imperative, she may have asked it like an imperative and/or like an interjection. If she meant her question as an imperative (and/or if people interpreted her vocal, facial, and gestural cues as such), then what she said probably constitutes an imperative.

    In other news, that was a fine rant, worthy of sharing on FB, which I did. Thanks for the read!

  10. 17

    We do not speak up to evangelize atheism, for that is antithetical to our position

    I don’t understand. Can you expand on this point a bit? Or link an article about it?

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