Suit-and-Tie Atheism: And the “Church-ification” of the Godless

Let me tell you about me and my activities on a typical night off work. I wake up around 4 to 5 pm because I usually work nights and those are my hours. I get up and have a glass of iced tea, some sodas, or a few (or more) beers, depending on my taste and mood. Then I’ll grab some take-out food, which usually consists of the greasiest grub I can find (What can I say? My arteries hate me!) I live in a 750-square-foot world where the Fri-Daddy is god, where snacking on chips, whole cashews, chocolate bars, and anything peanut butter is the divine moral order, and where shrimp and bacon are only one step away from being “holy” foods. There are probably more preservatives in me than blood cells! There are as many paper cups, plastic wrappers, and empty junk-food containers in my kitchen as there are strands of carpet in the living room! At my place, it’s an ongoing battle just to keep up with throwing them all away. So it’s safe to say I’m pretty much your exuberant Class-A slob.

When I’m done eating, I go back to doing what consumes most of my pathetically anal and highly obsessive/compulsive life—reading articles, writing articles, and editing articles, both for freelance and for freethought purposes. I spend the first half of the day doing what I want and the last half of the day doing work, which includes maintaining my blogs and answering emails. In between this time, I peruse the web for documentaries, audio clips, and videos, so much so that your typical, shorthand-using, 14-year-old, internet troll has nothing on me! I also love comedy of all kinds, particularly satire, to the extent that I try daily to gratify my ominously dark and disturbing sense of humor.

But I’m always thinking, thinking when my fat ass is hold up on the recliner, thinking when that searingly hot water is running over my head and beading off my back in the shower. And I’m a tactile thinker. I like to feel myself thinking, so it’s not uncommon for me to spend some amount of money on new keyboards that provide a nice, rough feel for the tips of my fingers to motivate me to keep on writing even when I feel like crap (which is often). I love a keyboard just before the keys get shiny as the surfacing begins to rub off from frequent use! I sometimes grit my teeth as I write, whether I’m mad or not. It just feels good. I also spend a decent amount of money collecting flashlights and pens. I love to feel them. Holding them in my hands helps me to think better.

Though not often, I can be moody, but I am always all-or-nothing; what I love I love and what I hate I hate. I love a cloudy or stormy day. I love the wind whipping through my hair. I love hot peppers. I love a well-timed shot of liquor. I love the cold air’s bite on my cheeks. I love the smell of jasmine. I love doing bizarre things, like sharpening backscratchers so that the intensity of the scratch is stronger on my skin. I play with my hair and rubber bands when I’m mind-numbingly bored, and I sculpt when I’m feeling creative. I love a good game of chess. I do other things too that I won’t go into much detail on, primal things that involve members of the opposite sex and me in handcuffs, but you get the picture.

And some days, the futility of existence is just too much for me, so I don’t get out of bed at all. I just lay there until I have a headache and stare up at the ceiling for hours because I can’t find the motivation to get up. I just lay in the dark, groveling on my bed until I can’t stand it anymore. I hate a lot of things too, like cinnamon and heights and mosquitoes and needles. I never lick my fingers and I hate it when others do around me and are otherwise not germ conscious. Unlike so many atheists, I don’t care much for leftwing politics. I am somewhat of a political enigma, being pro-torture and pro-death penalty on the one hand, and pro-euthanasia and pro-abortion on the other. I don’t care about “going green” to save the planet either. It matters about as much to me as that cross on the neck of a hot-legged Catholic schoolgirl you wish you’d banged when you had the chance.

And I am plenty aware of my faults too. I am impatient, selfish, picky, and much like I do life in general, I absolutely despise large portions of the population, especially cattle-like people who never struggle with the meaning of their existence (though, in a way, I’m a bit envious of them.) I don’t really care for the poor, and the mentally deficient tend to bother me, as do most special interest groups and other near-parasitical forces of society (Hey, at least I’m honest about it!) I am a recluse, by and large, and I prefer to keep it that way.

My ultimate desire in this predictably short charade I call life is to pass on my experiences and knowledge by way of the written word. I am a student of this cruel-but-curiously-stimulating universe, and if I can pass on my observations to future generations so that they may live through them or somehow make use of them, that is perfectly delightful to me. But all of this just describes one atheist—me. It doesn’t describe all atheists, but in fact describes very few atheists.

One atheist may have nothing in common with another except for one thing: both don’t believe in a deity. That is all—end of story. There need be no other similarities between them. An atheist may be educated or uneducated, smart or stupid, kind or mean-spirited, a law-abiding citizen or an outlaw. He may be charitable or stingy, morally straight-laced or downright perverted. She may be a republican, a libertarian, or a flat-out Marxist. I keep thinking the point has been made already. It isn’t that complicated, and yet I see so little understanding of this in relations between believers and atheists.

We vocal atheists have dealt with our share of email exchanges explaining to clueless inquisitors that agnosticism is not a halfway house between atheism and theism, but only a degree of atheism; an agnostic or weak atheist is less convicted and perhaps less vocal than a positive or strong atheist. And that is what atheism is—a conviction and not a philosophy, though it is sometimes classified as a philosophy or a discipline for reference purposes in the field of philosophy. But this simple misunderstanding has done leagues to impede the progress of our debates for who knows how long.

You see this royal misinformation at work every time some Simple Simon makes reference to “the church of atheism” or “the religion of the godless.” Since atheism is strictly a negative conviction, it cannot have a church or any institution built on it with creedal beliefs or affirmative regulations that affect belief, identity, conduct, or character (which is what churches and religions have and do). And yet, even amongst my atheist comrades, these same misunderstandings are being unknowingly propagated with what I have come to call “suit-and-tie atheism.”

Suit-and-tie atheism is the vain attempt on the part of some atheists to “churchify” their godless convictions under differing militant and evangelistic banners. They show frantic worry about “making de-converts” to join us in our “fight for unbelief.” The suit-and-tie atheist is concerned especially with “coming off” right (which usually means putting on a smiley face and displaying pretentiously Christian-like behavior). The suit-and-tie atheist’s goal: they want believers to be impressed with them in hopes of winning over an on-the-fence Christian who just might say, “These cats aren’t so bad. Maybe my Christian stereotypes of atheists are wrong? I think I’ll join them in their quest for reason.” But it doesn’t happen that way, regardless of how little profanity an atheist uses or how kind and inviting an atheist is in a written or oral debate, or if an atheist chooses the term “non-theist” instead of atheist to ward off any nasty preconceptions of them.

It is very important to the suit-and-tie atheist that no atheist in their company comes off like a “village atheist”—an unsophisticated, homegrown, “I’ll believe it when I see it” type who does not continually pay lip-service to the glories of Aristotelian logic, and who doesn’t have a big interest in arguing atheism with anyone and everyone he knows. But even worse to the suit-and-tie atheist is the “angry atheist” because the angry atheist makes all other atheists look depressed and grumpy—a cardinal sin in the eyes of so many happy-go-lucky, pro-marijuana, planet-loving, Toyota Echo-driving naturalists.

Since the suit-and-tie atheist is concerned mainly with appearance and getting people to agree with him/her – always careful to be pleasant to a fault – they naturally shy away from atheists like myself who are too edgy, too rambunctious, and just too brutally honest for their taste. The suit-and-tie atheist is more like a politician, distancing himself from bad imagery, shaking hands with a big smile on his face, while patting kids on the head as he works the crowd on the campaign trail. But as noble as it sounds to try and line up atheists as charming and inviting, it’s a bad idea because it creates yet another of what should be forthrightly shunned—an unfounded stereotype.

Atheists far and wide seem to be contributing to this suit-and-tie silliness, like Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett (among others), who have voiced their desire for all atheists to identify themselves as “Brights.” “The New Atheists” is another description that is catching on and becoming increasingly popular. I was always amazed as a preacher at the tendency of churches to wear denominational names and the names of religious leaders, but I am just as amazed as an atheist at how quickly and easily atheists are guilty of the very same thing. The put-your-best-foot-forward mentality, the desire to label and re-label things to reflect excellence and great personal achievement appears to be universal.

As much as I hate to burst the bloated bubbles of these highly publicized and widely adored atheists, this label-wearing malarkey has got to stop. There are no “Brights” or “New Atheists” anymore than there are “New Deists.” The term “atheist” covers everything that needs to be covered. To go further than that only feeds the already fat market of misinformation on the identity of unbelievers and what we are all about. Add to that, the term “Brights” has a mighty arrogant come-off to it, regardless of whether it was intended to have or not. Those who go around saying (by implication or otherwise), “I am bright and you are not!” to them I proudly extend a middle finger, and rightly so! And why do we need “new” atheism anyway? What was wrong with the old? In addition to being a virtual spit in the face to us behind-the-times “old” atheists, gimmicky and trendy names like these wreak of being little more than pathetic sales-pitches for a new age.

Well, how about we get back to the four basic food groups of atheism: 1) Atheism, 2) is a, 3) conviction, 4) only! And being a conviction only, it does not and cannot lead to moral excellence or decay. It is not an idealistic construct. It offers me nothing. It offers you nothing. Like me, it may be the only position you can come to and honestly profess belief in, or it may not be. If you find atheism sound, then great; maybe you already fight at my side to break the rusting and corroding shackles of superstition, but if not, I won’t lose any sleep over the matter. If you believe in God, I have better things to do than to try and get you off that drug.

The truth is, I don’t care whether you believe in a ghost with a capital “G” or not. It doesn’t matter to me at all. I only want to make my experiences available to those who happen to be in a position to benefit from learning about them, and I will only fight against religious beliefs when they happen to be thrown in my face or when some Jeebus-ite starts to wax too missionary in his/her beliefs. But that’s it. Beyond that, I have no interest in “making atheists” out of anyone or putting new and cute labels on those who already identify themselves as infidels. Worship and pray to whomever or whatever you want, or don’t worship and pray at all. See if I care.

As far as the remaining theists are concerned, evolution will take care of them as God-belief ever-gradually continues to fade from the planet. Every time a Sunday school girl makes her teacher mad because she demands to know where Cain got his wife, religion is fading. Every time a young man begins to doubt the veracity of the great flood and the story of Noah’s ark, religion is fading. Every time another college student becomes emboldened enough to throw off his parent’s religion because of what he learned in geology class, we see that the age-old, male-glorifying, monotheistic blood-gods who for so long have vilified reason and promised damnation to those who think for themselves are at last losing the war. They are running for the hills as your eyes finish this sentence.

Atheism is the logical result of knowledge acquired by the sound use of reason. It does not come from pandering to Christians and straightening that proverbial tie to look good for the “camera” of public perception. Instead of worrying about who’s “hurting the cause of atheism,” we should instead see to it that atheism is understood; understanding that will eliminate the illusionary damage that has led to the public’s vilification of the position. The advancement of atheism is not about upholding an image, and it’s not about receiving a message. It’s about mankind being ready and able to accept the truth of her humble origins, her inevitable and hopeless demise, and her limited place in the cosmos. And when she is ready, she will! As the world becomes more enlightened, the atheists are going to be here. I have no doubt about it—unless, of course, a meteor hits the earth and the only ones who survive are the Sean Hannity types, but hey, we’re talking about more realistic possibilities!

Gentlemen, lose the jackets. Get rid of the ties. Ladies, let down your hair. And it’s okay to put your feet on the coffee table.



Bill Seymour said...

Mr. Holman "doth protest too much."
He clearly sees "atheist" as the primary category and "suit" as a subdivision of it.

Couldn't it be that people who dress thinking that others might have to look at them fail to believe in a diety?

Unknown said...

I agree and disagree with a lot of what you have written. Like you the brights movement seems to me to be an exercise in silliness. A more divise label could not have been invented unless they called themselves the "Not-Stupids". Like you i dislike the "Atheism cause". And like you i find atheists that are middle of the road, unoffensive and trying-to-please deeply misguided.
However, I do differ from your views on several points.
Firstly, on "New atheists". This isn't an atheist term. Its a term that was applied by religious types to authors such as Dawkins, Harris, etc. A new atheist is different from the old ones only in that unlikely the bulk of the "old" atheists, he has no respect for religion and no complusion to stay quiet.
If you look at Dawkins work for instance, as well as generally decrying religion, what he really goes after is religion in politics, education and science. I believe he is right to do so. If religion was simply a matter of private belief, then i'm sure that the new atheist would not exist. But it isn't. Religion influences our politics, our science, our education and our society. As atheists and members of society it is our duty to stand up for ourselves and say "We do not want this".
For instance. American foreign policy towards Iran and Iraq is influenced by the right wing churches that have huge sway within the republican party. Decisions that should be made on the basis of international relations and facts are being swayed by apocalypic religious nutcases. Hagee's support for John McCain is a good example.
Over here in Britain we have bishops in the House of Lords (one of our two chambers of government).This men are there solely because of their rank within our state church.
Our children, in the UK and USA are being taught creationism (when they can get away with it) and this is a doctrine demonstratably false. We have a duty to insist that our tax dollars are spent educating our children wisely, not on the basis of myths. This is why atheists should speak up and be heard.
While i agree that atheists do not necessarily share anything beyond their lack of belief, this doesn't mean that atheists who DO share more than this godlessness cannot get together and do something productive. To say that they speak for all atheists would be inaccurate but i see nothing wrong with atheists forming lobbying groups to counter the influence of churches, or even charitable groups to try and improve the view of atheists amongst the general population.
I agree that religion is dying. Compare the power of the Roman catholic church in Europe now to any other time in the last 1000 years and its clear they are losing power. But to ignore the power they DO still have left could result in decisions being made that will negatively impact many atheists simply because they ARE atheists.
In America i know your situation is worse, your churches wield enormous power, particularly in the republican party, and this power has some very bad ideas. Sensible atheists, even right wing conversative atheists, should find plenty to work against in such situations.
And thats the difference between new and old atheism. Old atheism maintained its lack of faith but didn't rock the boat, new atheism lacks the respect for the privileged status of religion and works against its more destructive ideas.
It would of course be a mistake to assume that all new atheists are "New" atheists, or that all old atheists are "Old" atheists.

zilch said...

What oli said. And what Melville said, in Moby Dick:

"Now, as i before hinted, I have no objection to any person's religion, be it what it may, so long as that person does not kill or insult any other person, because that other person doesn't believe it also. But when a man's religion becomes really frantic; when it is a positive torment to him; and, in fine, makes this earth of ours an uncomfortable inn to lodge in; then I think it high time to take that individual aside and argue the point with him."

Anonymous said...

Joe, thanks for sharing your story. I wish better for you than what you've described of your life, unless you're a happy recluse. ;-) I am very much in agreement with you about a cookie cutter mentality when it comes to atheists, adopting the same goals and wearing the same labels. Brights? Come on now. That's just stupid, even if there ought to be a label most of us can call ourselves besides a negative one like a-theists. I left all of that when I left the church. I am first and formost a freethinker. I wish this on everyone. I don't consider Bible believers freethinkers because they must gerrymander and cherry pick what they claim to believe out of a so-called authoritarian ancient superstitious book.

That being said, you should also recognize that just as you are an individual, so are other atheists. Some of them want to be of the suit and tie variety to win others to their viewpoint for various reasons. Others are just nice atheists because that's who they are. Some of them just don't want to offend others any more than they have to. So if your post is that atheists should be themselves then I agree wholeheartedly. The problem is when atheist of one variety tell atheists of a different variety to be just like them. I know you understand. We can argue our respective cases, as you just did. But there is no way any atheist can argue another atheist out of a different personality temperment.

You are one hell of a word crafter!

Shygetz said...

"Brights" was the dumbest idea to come from an otherwise smart person that I have heard in a while. Why not just name yourself Elitists and be done with it. You think atheist has a bad connotation, Brights starts off bad and will only get worse as people associate the phrase with atheism.

And a New Atheist is just an old atheist who refuses to know his/her place.

Joe E. Holman said...

Thanks, John. You may be my biggest fan! :p

Yes, "new atheists" is often used derogatorily, but a number of atheists have proudly adopted the title and use it, and other atheists use it to describe atheists like Dawkins and Hitchens. Therefore, it well deserved mentioning.

No, I'm not "telling" any atheist that they cannot be or act a certain way. What I'm saying is, there's no cause for this suit-and-tie behavior if we understand its pointlessness. That's how I see it. And as always, I am definitely saying that EVERYONE should be who they are, and vocally so.