On Divisive Atheists and Some Freethought Bloggers

In February 2002, four years before his book The God Delusion was released in 2006, Richard Dawkins called atheists to arms in a TED talk. His talk wasn’t aired until April of 2007. He makes it clear he wants a campaign much like the gays used to gain acceptability in American society. His final sentence was, "let's all stop being so damned respectful."

At that point there was a split among atheists. A line was drawn in the sand. Although I admit that his approach has been very effective in getting people to take notice of atheists, at the same time I object to the demand that other atheists must adopt that same attitude or approach.

This trajectory led to the development of the Courtier's Reply, since neither Dawkins nor PZ Myers, or other philosophically or theologically untrained atheists, could answer the flurry of arguments coming from Christians. However, the Courtier's Reply has it's problems as I have argued. See also right here.

This divided atheists into two camps. It didn’t have to do so, but it did. From then on there was an aggressive “in your face” type of atheism and also a “friendly” or accomodationist one. You were either on one side or the other, and if you were on the “wrong” side there was hell to pay. It probably came to a head with Phil Plait's talk, "Don't Be a Dick," at TAM 8. But in the process even Plait ended up dividing atheists, as I argued. And I suggested what he should have said.

All one side had to do was acknowledge the value and contribution of the other side, and I did. Ridicule can be effective in changing minds, okay? Activism is important for defending the rights of atheists, agreed. I value that type of atheism very much so. I am an inclusive atheist, valuing these approaches within certain reasonable guidelines.

Other issues have separated us. As a result, one by one the leading atheists fell by the wayside until I argued there was no atheist community and no atheist movement. That, of course, didn't sit well with some atheists.

There are atheists who are economical conservatives, those who think there was a historical Jesus who was later mythologized, Buddhists, metaphysical Platonists, and metaphysical naturalists. There are apathetic atheists and even those who think religion is a good thing. There are activists and there are academics who have their different specialties. There are former Christians who are now debunkers.

Whether atheists realize this or not I am a true inclusivist, the likes of which none of these line-drawers can understand. Many atheists just don’t understand me so I’ll stop expecting them to. The dividing line for me is ignorance and divisiveness itself. Power and politics have no traction where I’m concerned. If you want to claim to speak for me, or tell me what I should think or do, and then bristle when I demur, we’re going to have trouble. And I don’t give a damn who it is anymore. If you want to pick a fight with me then you’d better start off being right. At least then you have a chance to win your case (Okay, maybe I’m a bit arrogant, but so what?). I’m not trying to pick a fight. The fight found me.

I don’t suffer fools gladly. I don’t care much for divisiveness either. I don’t care much for people who claim that it’s "my way or no way." Again, power and politics have no traction where I’m concerned.

I am single-mindedly focused on destroying the power and influence of evangelical Christianity in America today. I think that should be the major goal of atheists, and I think this goal can be shared by even the apathetic, at least in principle, as well as those who think religion is a good thing. We can agree that evangelical Christianity is bad for America, bad for our future, bad for science, and bad for the world.

There is a new dividing line, first introduced by Skepchick, coming from Elevatorgate. Diversity is now seen to be an important value among many atheists, and that's a good thing. There are those of us who appreciate diversity and others who don’t get it yet. Atheists who don't get it yet are blasted and ostracized, even though as far as I'm concerned, this is a societal problem. In some cases this reaction is warranted but calling for a boycott of Dawkins's books and lectures seems unwarranted to me. Now I am perceived to be against diversity too. Well, nothing could be further from the truth. Anyone spreading that lie is someone who cannot even read as far as I’m concerned. But then that’s my dividing line. I’m against ignorance. And I am most emphatically all for inclusiveness.

I did a search at DC for the times I have said I’m a feminist somewhere inside a post and here's what I found. This is still the case with me, even if I don't always take up the charge.

The thing about feminism or racism or gay bashing is that these are societal problems, not just atheist ones. We find them almost everywhere. So it’s right to educate people, atheists as well, about the harm white heterosexual men and our attitudes do toward minorities. I’m so appalled by it that sometimes I'm ashamed to be a white heterosexual male. At the same time I find these issues to be peripheral ones (albeit very important ones) from my goal of single-mindedly focusing on destroying the power and influence of evangelical Christianity in America today. If I focus on doing that then these other hurtful attitudes will be partially debunked as well.

Let me give you an example from one of the contributors at DC. Her name is articulett. She is an administrator here. She has a master’s degree. She is educated, intelligent and forceful in how she argues. She is indefatigable, long after I tire out. You want diversity like I do? Then let’s place people like her front and center. That is, was, and will forever be my point.

Ed Babinski lists a number of women who speak out against religion (many of whom I had not heard before), seen here, and also seen here. I'm all for it. I encourage it. We need more of them, the better credentialed the better I like it, which is, was, and will forever be my point.

To see what prompted this from me look through William Dembski's outline of the relevant posts, should anyone want to trudge through them all. There are others.

I have argued that when emotions rule, all the rules of logic don't apply. I made this argument in the case of Christians who argue based on emotions. I think it applies to us all. When emotions get in the way very few of us reason very well. Mine got in the way, and for that I sincerely and honestly apologize to everyone. Again, I'm very sorry, especially to Natalie Reed, whose emotions got in her way as well. I don't like being personally attacked, and I still feel this is what was done to me. But I also find emotions ruling some of the commenters, a few who usually have much better critical thinking skills than most others. I would like to put this to rest now and get back to doing what I do best, please.

Dembski’s unrecognized problem is that Christians have been going at each other's throats for centuries, even though they alone claim to have an inspired book from the one true God. My claim is that people are just people, that the church and it’s numerous divisions over power and politics simply imitates what we see everywhere else in human society. If there was a God who illuminates the minds of believers and inspired a book of divine truth, then why is it that the history of the church is indistinguishable from what we see among human organizations as a whole? It’s just what we do, sad, but true.

[First posted 2/23/12]