Letter To Non-Atheists

Let me open by saying that “non-atheists” aren’t all theists. Non-atheists are people who don’t identify as atheist — and a significant amount of these people aren’t theists, identifying as “agnostic”, or “no religion”, or “spiritual” (believing in some supernatural force that lacks agency).

A lot of you non-atheists probably have heard us atheists say that we respect people regardless of their belief or lack thereof, or something similar to that, which probably makes you wonder why we’re so angry.

Well, see, we do respect you. The problem is, you don’t respect us.

I really hate to say this. I would love to say that yes, religion is as nice as you say it is, that it is respectful as it — and you — say it is.

But it isn’t, and you aren’t either when you stand up to defend it.

When you call us mean and disrespectful, and then tell us that it is our questions — questions that would be asked by an extraterrestrial scientist speaking to a human missionary — that are disrespectful, you are telling us to shut up and nothing more. This is disrespectful to our views. You are telling us that we are not allowed to provide a counterbalance to our opponents’ claims in the public sphere because our opponents do not like us. And we get mad, because we don’t like this.

But when have you seen an atheist do this?

Have you seen an atheist ever tell a theist or a Christian, when they make their claims, that they are simply being disrespectful and need to stop because of that? Do you have any examples of that?

You can look, but I don’t think you’ll find anything — because we don’t do that. We give you that respect because we give everyone that respect. It’s called honesty and it’s fundamental to any reasoned discussion, that is, if the discussion is going to get anywhere useful.

Which brings me to my second point: those of you non-atheists who don’t believe in a god are still non-atheists regardless, because you don’t understand what it means to be an atheist.

You see, when you’re an atheist, you get this sort of shafting all the time. Being an atheist means that, for some reason, non-atheists are free to make all sorts of assumptions about your moral character or inferences about your tone or intentions without backing them up at all. Sure, you can ask, but all you’ll get in response are reiterations, or just driving the person off in a huff because you asked all of your mean and inconvenient critical questions.

What’s more, it means that people feel the liberty to make insane leaps of logic or sophist constructions in order to not just explain things about religion or their religion, but also about atheism — and your atheism. They feel like they are allowed to say whatever they want about atheists, creating obviously-disrespectful caricatures of invisible atheists they supposedly know — or even real, prominent atheists such as Dawkins and Hitchens and Harris — and waving them about in your face as if they, the non-atheist, know more about atheism than you, as if somehow all their pronouncements are made law by their burning scarecrows with names and faces taped to them. Not only that, but they feel that they are allowed to declare that the atheist is acting dishonestly, trying to “win” the debate rather than come to some sort of rational conclusion, and not back this up at all because who other than the atheist (who is obviously being dishonest) is going to oppose that?

And that’s only when you merely debate and make your arguments known ON THE INTERNET. FSM forbid that you actually advertise your existence on a billboard, or a bus. Worse yet is when you start making the arguments there. When the churches advertise their services, when the religiously-backed PACs put out their ads and have their fundraisers and hobnob with parliamentarians and congresscritters to spread their backwards views about how women are property and evolution is evil, that’s all fine and dandy, freedom of speech and all that. But us atheists? Once again we’re being mean, strident, disrespectful, what have you. Or, worse yet, the ads will get vandalized and pulled, with whoever was hosting them mumbling something about religious content being too controversial. But when have you ever heard of church advertisements being vandalized by atheists? Almost never — because we respect their freedom of speech.

When you go on a site advertised as an atheist community, furthermore, you will find some fairly stringent rules — excessive proselytizing will universally result in you being banned, as will excessive use of any of the dishonest tactics above. You’ll also find a lot of people talking about these tactics being used against them, and how much they love having a space where they can come in and not have those tactics used. And if you do use those tactics, while you won’t be instantly banned, you will receive a fairly hostile response — and when you ask why you’re getting such a hostile response, you’ll most likely be told that the community has many many posts regarding such tactics and you should probably have done a bit of background reading, and that by making your complaints you are simply annoying the community by posting things that have been posted and discussed tens or hundreds or even thousands of times, mostly with the same results. Why? Simple: atheists have to deal with that all the time in public. When they come to an atheist community, they are coming there specifically so that they DON’T have to deal with that, and when you make them deal with it there, you are invading their safe space.

Furthermore, when you do that, you contribute. Your post justifies everyone else in saying that, regardless of their beliefs being as innocuous as yours or as kooky as Ron Paul’s (or anywhere between or outside those two points). By saying it, you allow them to say it, and you add to the unjust delegitimization of atheist arguments for irrational reasons. Worse yet, when you say it, you do direct harm to the atheist and any other atheists reading it. For no rational reason, you undermine their self-confidence and make them feel more alone in the world, as if they will never get anywhere outside of their atheist communities because when they venture out of the safe space all they get is non-atheists posting and agreeing with this sort of derision, and only other atheists — few, if any — rising in defense of atheism. Invariably, the responses will be heavily skewed towards agreement with the non-atheist position, with the atheist arguments (if there is even more than one before the discussion dissolves into the atheist asking for evidence that they’re being disrespectful or dishonest) left dismissed even though they haven’t been addressed.

Sure, you might not believe in god either. But when you come in there with your “I don’t believe in a god, but you atheists could sure be more respectful…” you prove that you’re not an atheist right to the core refusal to admit that you are an atheist. When you say these things, you uphold a culture that says these things, that says things about respecting beliefs while stomping on the face of atheism with every breath.

To be an atheist requires ignoring the words and focusing on the boot. It requires knocking the flimsy stool out from underneath the mountain of pleasent lies constructed by religion and its abettors and not only admitting that atheists are marginalized but fighting back. It means calling out the bullshit niceties trotted out about religion when the crazies are drumming up US Senate votes for their latest hare-brained initiative. It means standing up and saying “that’s wrong and fucked up on so many levels” when religious apologists assert that parents own their children right down to being allowed to dictate what superstitions their children do or do not believe. It means dispensing with all of this idiotic framing of things in terms of the non-atheist’s “offense” rather than this “offense” being the driving force behind the maintenance of religious privilege. And it means admitting that you’ve been doing harm too, by upholding the edifice of religion even as a “nice” nonreligious person.

Being an atheist, in short, means being honest.

But being honest doesn’t necessarily mean being an atheist. I could give a fuck less if you’re Christian, or Buddhist, or “spiritual”, or even “freezone” Scientologist. Just be honest, and stand with me when I call out dishonesty for what it is — I and the atheists who stand with me will be more than happy to call you an ally. We’re not mad at you. We’re never really mad at you, unless you yourself give us reason to be. We are mad at what you are saying, what you are doing, what you are upholding — and if you stop saying, doing and upholding those things, we will welcome you with open arms and a cask of grog as a valued ally. Indeed, because atheism is a choice, we are seen as less deserving of allies than other marginalized groups; the amount of non-atheist allies that I know about can be counted on one hand and worse yet I know them all on a personal level, not merely as prominent names.

All we’re asking is that you stop thinking about you being offended, and instead think of us being harmed. Offense is not harm, and your offense at our position isn’t remotely close to the harm done to us by your silencing “offense”.

So stop.

Please.

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2 Responses to Letter To Non-Atheists

  1. monado says:

    A few times, when someone has tried that “all atheists are ___” nonsense or tormented strawman versions of evolution, I’ve replied by telling them that Christians worship donkeys on sticks and pointing out that what I say is as accurate as what they are saying. They don’t get it.

  2. Pingback: Where Idiots Fear to Tread | Tangled Up in Blue Guy

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