Monday, July 20, 2009

In Defense of "Uncivil" Atheists

A reader of The Daily Dish writes:
I understand where you are coming from when you say, "Atheists are much more likely to be ostracized for their beliefs, but that does not excuse incivility on their part." Even as an atheist, I get annoyed by many of the tactics of hardlined atheists and do wish for more civility in the discussion, but one has to realize that its incredibly hard to be an atheist and even the best of us have days where we can't bite our tongues. Surely as a gay person Andrew has had those moments where he just snapped at someone's homophobia.

Most people are aware that admitting to atheism pretty much bars you from political office, immediately makes your patriotism suspect, can ruin friendships, families, and careers. For reasons of self-preservation, we're often compelled to live "in the closet". In some ways, its tempting to make parallels with other minorities that have been discriminated against over the years, be it based on gender, race, sexual preference, etc. But unlike those groups, we're not forbidden to vote, get married, buy houses, eat at the same restaurants, or any of the other rights other groups had to fight for. In some ways, even I, as an atheist that has been discriminated against time and time again feel like maybe I don't really have any right to complain. But I am treated very differently, and very unfairly, and in a country where "all men are created equal" its time we put an end to that. But what is there to end?

There are no real battles to be fought and won other than general acceptance. Laws about religion are already on the books. There are no acts of Congress that can alleviate the acts of discrimination we face. It is almost purely a battle of intangible social constructs. There are no equivalents to the marches against Prop 8 or riots against faulty elections. There are very few ways to channel the anger, sadness, and frustration of our discrimination.

Every atheist is bound to have a day just bad enough where they explode on some poor believer who pushes too hard and every atheist has felt at time that even the most accepting of believers is tacitly agreeing to the discrimination we face. Sure, I disapprove of many of the less civil tactics some of the more well-known atheists engage in, but I can't say that I don't understand what pushed them to that point. But, in the grander scheme of things, as a group we've yet to do anything as "uncivil" as Stonewall, or the riots we saw during the civil rights movement. Many of these acts are not only forgiven, but celebrated as reasonable responses in the face of discrimination, yet we're screamed at any time an atheist acts like a jerk on TV, writes something a bit testy on a website, or files the occasionally dumb lawsuit.

I dare say that in the history of discriminated groups in this country, atheists have been the most civil and with plenty of room to spare, yet still, we're told that its too much and that we need to calm down and scale it back a notch.

So no, I don't like the incivility some bring to the discussion, but if they didn't, would anyone even be talking about this issues? If everyone remained "civil" it'd get swept up under the rug like it always has in the past. Their incivility might not solve the problem, but it sheds enough of a spotlight on the subject to open a door for the civil conversations that need to happen. Without them I strongly believe the conversation would never happen at all.

As someone who has been guilty of incivility more than once, I agree. Growing up in a society that equates religiosity with morality and patriotism and in a community that equates leaving Orthodoxy with disloyalty, dysfunction, and selfish hedonism and essentially pretends that we no longer exist and don't need to be taken seriously, it's hard not to lash out sometimes.


CyberKitten said...

Gotta *love* the land of the 'free', eh.....?

If *incivility* is the worst thing they can say about American atheists... I say you're not trying hard enough. [grin]

Off the Derech said...

Damn straight.

Comrade Kevin said...

And occasional lapses in judgment are to be forgiven, just as I at times express no small indignation at the militant anti-theists who assume I must be delusional and beyond the ability to think rationally to believe in God.

We all screw up from time to time. It's the people who never apologize and never make any desire to be civil ever that get me. But then again, people who are that way about any cause really get my ire for the same exact reason.

Anonymous said...

I am not atheist, but agnostic-deist which is pretty much the same thing.

The difference between former Muslims & former Jews & Christians is at least IMO that most Jews & Christians have managed to relativise away much of the appalling stuff in their texts & practices, which Muslims haven't.So former Christians & Jews can critique the super religious of at most being anti abortion in the cases of rape & incest or supporting an unjust war,ex Muslims have much more to criticise their faith about.

In the Iranian American community, there is a very significant % of disbelievers & some folks who think that all the troubles in Islamic lands isn't due to "true Islam" but other factors like misogynistic men.

I have been rude sometimes to these folks,but I do sometimes agree with them. For example, I realise that honor killings aren't advocated anywhere in Islam, but stonings & lashings are & many types of discriminations on non believers are. I have often been rude to folks who refuse to accept that these are indeed "true Islam" although they can probably be interpreted away the way Jews have managed to interpret so much barbarity in their texts away.

Another group I dislike are evangelical Christians, I know some former Muslims in Europe who tell me that such evangelists are almost unheard of in Europe, unfortunately in U.S.A. they're common.

They come to such families houses with Bibles, or rather with a selective nice compilation of the Bible, witness to us about how we can be "saved".

These preachers are very smart, they seem to know which folks have & who haven't lost their faith & act accordingly.

I know they go to visit Chinese students, but not Indian Hindu students, they'll not DARE visit a Pakistani or Saudi family, but of course Iranians, Albanians & Azerbaijanis seem easy targets to them.

I such evangelist I met told me how "brave"(it required no bravery, my parents well very accepting) I was to leave Islam & then about how Christ can "save" me!

I often lose my temper with such folks.

Now we have a signboard outside our house which keeps these evangelists as well as Mormons & JW's away.

I am quite open about my lack of faith with pretty much everyone, but I hope not obnoxious about it. Some Muslims do try to encourage me to re read the Quran & speak to Allah about my doubts, but I haven't received a single overt or covert death threat.

There is another type of Christian theist whom I dislike, the kind who might not encourage me to find Christ, but who'll congratulate me saying something like, "You did the right thing. Muhammad was a pedophile, mass murderer, rapist, genocider..." & "Be careful your parents don't kill you!"

Of course, they're familiar with all that is wrong with Islam but cool with the same appalling behaviour of their God in the Bible, this hypocrisy gets to me.Atheists tend to be more understanding, while they might see the faults of Islam, they also recognise similar flaws in other religious texts.


jewish philosopher said...

"a community that equates leaving Orthodoxy with disloyalty, dysfunction, and selfish hedonism"

Which is true. Orthodox Jews who become atheists are simply betraying everything good and true for the sake of getting laid and getting high.

Skepoet said...

"Orthodox Jews who become atheists are simply betraying everything good and true for the sake of getting laid and getting high."

Really? I hope that is sardonic.

As for the actual post, I pretty much agree. If incivility is the worse crime, I hardly think its worth the kind of tarring we sometimes get.

jewish philosopher said...

Nope. Atheism is just an excuse for blow and hos.

Jr said...

"Atheism is just an excuse for blow and hos."

I feel tricked, I am an atheist but I haven't seen any of the blow or hos. I guess it is mostly the hos I miss though.

But I am curious. Does orthodox judaism really condemm drugs? On what basis?

Jewish Atheist said...

For those who don't know, Jewish Philosopher is way, way out there even for Orthodox Jewish bloggers. He appears to genuinely believe that all those who leave Orthodoxy do so out of some sort of sex addiction.

Geonite said...

Jewish Philosopher,

Total hogwash. I've never done drugs.

What about all the Orthodox people who smoke cigarettes? Nicotine is a drug and cigarettes kill. Doesn't that go against the mitzvah

ונשמרתם מאוד לנפשותיכם

Anonymous said...

Jewish philosopher:"Which is true. Orthodox Jews who become atheists are simply betraying everything good and true for the sake of getting laid and getting high."

What about Muslims who become atheists? Fundie Christians tell me that it is an act of great nobility & welcome me to humanity, often preach Christianity to me.

I know Jews don't proselytize, but I'm still interested in their reaction.

jewish philosopher said...

"Jewish Philosopher is way, way out there even for Orthodox Jewish bloggers"

People probably said the same about Copernicus, once upon a time.

"Total hogwash. I've never done drugs."

It's interesting how every atheist who actually dares to identify himself is a total scumbag.

It's all the anonymous bloggers who constantly scream "What are you talking about! I am the nicest, kindest, most sober person in the world! I have a house, job, wife, five disabled foster kids, have never even touched a beer and I spend all weekend helping homeless people!"

But these inspiring souls will never give out their name, address and phone number.

Sure. I totally believe you.

Tigerboy said...

Jewish Philosopher:

The fact that you say such controversial and inflammatory things, and then publish photographs of your kids, along with your name, the town you live in, and even pictures of your own house, none of those things make you more noble. They are just more examples of how foolish you are (as if we needed more examples).

Failing to publish a name, address, and phone number on the internet does not preclude someone from being a good person.

It demonstrates intelligence.

jewish philosopher said...

It demonstrates shame, probably well deserved.

I don't know of any anonymous Orthodox rabbis on the web.

Geonite said...

Jewish Philosopher,

Did God tell you what reasons people have for not giving out private information on the internet?

Are you a prophet?

מאז חורבן בית המקדש ניתנה נבואה לטפשים

I_Affe said...

Damn! JP is onto me! Sex and drugs are all I have. I don't even have Rock 'n' Roll!

I've got to come up with a plan and get back to religion, to that warm, welcoming embrace of... aw fuck it! This hit's for you, JP!

Andrew said...

Hey, if there is no God, then allthat stuff about Israel having some special righ to the land is buch of lies.

When they gonna leave?

And does "Goy" really mean "Nigger" and not just "non jew". That what my roomate told me before he realized I was not Jewish.


Andrew said...

Hey, Jewish philospher! YOU tell me...what is a "goy"?

Don't try to kid me, now!

My college roomate (sophmore year) was Jewish and he let the cat out of the bag!

And don't be too hard on ex Orthodox...after all you were raised Luther and betrayed Christ without too much angst.

Andrew said...

Jew Philosopher, having read more of your bio I am appalled.

Do you really think God is approving of the way you treated your adoptive parents?

After all, adoption is recognized in the Tamud, and you have broken a major commandment..."to honor your father and mother".

Oh, you can play some word games and get out it, but you know you were wrong.

You are some piece of work.

jewish philosopher said...

Regarding why people leave Orthodox Judaism, I have a post about that.

If you want to see a few "Hassidic rebels" and "Orthodox skeptics" check out this video at the 7:28 point.

I guess this is part of the their "scientific research".

"You are some piece of work."

I am actually quite magnificent.

Sarah Trachtenberg said...

Some jerk spanks me with a bible belt (or prayer rug!) and I'm uncivil because I don't turn the other cheek?
We're uncivil?
You're right in saying we're the most civil of any similar movement. Considering how angry we could (or should?) be, we're not staging riots.
Religious people, on the other hand...
Methinks the lady doth complain too much.
Speaking of other rights groups, such as gays, blacks, Jews, women and other people marginalize by society is probably bigger than atheism as a movement, sure... but do you think I am a stranger to sexism? I'd say the marginalization of women is worse than all the rest. I feel sexism touching most areas of my life, and the lives of other women in the world (cough, Muslim) sadly much, much worse.
Sexism has its own unique challenges. If you say you support equal rights for blacks, gays, etc., people pat you on the back, at least in moderate to liberal places. If you say you try to fight sexism, even liberals will roll their eyes. I'm just saying I understand what marginalization is and I don't equate it to how atheists are marginalized, which is not to say it isn't a problem we should fight.
BTW: "goyim" translates into "nations" in Yiddish.