Non-atheists revisited. (In Memory of Christopher Hitchens)

The death of Christopher Hitchens yesterday brought out such wonderful examples of the religious sentiments of love, peace, fairness and justice.

On Twitter, the hashtag #GodIsNotGreat started trending. Many, many ignorant — and in some cases nutty — believers then began adding to that stream with complaints about the mere fact that it was trending, or highly offended responses about the existence of such a hashtag or the existence of people who believe such sentiments.

Many similar sentiments were aired in the comments, with many there disingenuously using Hitch’s Islamophobia (never mind of course that many atheists also disagree with it and will readily say so) in an attempt to discredit his religious skepticism. Some didn’t go this far, but still took passive-aggressive shots at the fiery style that made Hitchens so well-respected amongst atheists despite some of his less favorable stances, characterizing it as anger and acting as though the world could do with less of it (they’re wrong; in fact, liberal institutions would do very well to copy Hitch’s playbook, considering that conservatives have been doing so since forever).

This brings to mind other events where atheism and atheists were brought into some facet of the mainstream public eye. Every time this happens, it seems, we will have religious nuts ramping up their nuttery, religious non-nuts calmly and condescendingly pooh-pooh-ing the mean atheists, and staunch “agnostics”, “spiritualists” and the like murmuring some light derision at the nuts before loudly agreeing with the non-nuts and echoing such claims as atheists being angry amoral nihilists who really should just leave all those nice religious people alone. All those non-atheists, furthermore, will immediately run over to the other side and crow about special exceptions, how this is only one case, how they only don’t like the mean atheists when another (ostensibly not mean) atheist brings up the fact that this happens every single time atheism is brought into the public eye.

How many times do you hear about a church getting this sort of response when they want to put up a billboard pushing their flavor of Christianity?

How many times do you see Christian missionaries called “angry” or “militant”? These are people who are sent around the world for the sole purpose of converting people to Christianity. That is, at the end of the day, their job (and almost none of them are paid to do it). No atheist does that. There are no atheist groups that send bands of atheist missionaries out to the Philippines or Africa or South America to deconvert all those deranged Christians. Hell, I don’t even know of any individual atheist (except maybe Dan Dennett) who exclusively devotes their time to justifying atheism, let alone going around trying to get as many people as possible to deconvert. Missionaries are many, but how many times do you hear missionaries told that they’re not allowed to do what they do because that’s just too mean, too aggressive, and they should respect others’ beliefs?

When do you see any religious apologetic get told that their arguments are not worth addressing because of some perceived “meanness” or “aggressiveness” or “anger” or the like? Never mind Christianity, when have you seen a Muslim, a Jew Buddhist, a Confucian, a Scientologist told this?

I haven’t. The Scientologist will get called crazy — but not angry, not aggressive, nothing like that. But as an atheist, on a large and public forum meant for debate? I got that. Someone would make a post about their religious beliefs, I would respond with my questions, and more than half the time the discussion would quickly degenerate into me having to defend myself from a slew of accusations regarding my tone or intentions, and wondering why questions I had worded to be as calm and objective as possible were having all of this dishonest intent and “negative” tone read into them. When I asked about these things and got no answers, I would then begin to get angry — but not so much anger as frustration, the feeling of beating my head against a wall. I literally was. I wasn’t having anything explained to me; why I was wrong, what was so wrong about my questions, where this claimed dishonest intent was, where this reading of anger was coming from, why I was getting such a hostile reaction, none of those apparently deserved to be made known, or I somehow already knew them. In fact, those I talked to wouldn’t even admit their hostility, instead claiming that I was (in some unexplained manner) being hostile!

Valid question, non-answer. Probe further, further non-answer. Probe even further, malicious intent. Probe into the malicious intent, non-answer. And so on. Thud, thud thud, my head, concrete wall, until eventually it got so tiring that I resigned myself almost exclusively to atheist communities because it seemed like atheist communities were the only place where these questions were taken seriously. And the more time I spent in atheist communities, the more it felt like the debates I had outside of them consisted of me making a rational point only to have my opponent try to find every reason possible to not address my argument, let alone believe it. As if my opponents saw my arguments and felt them so horrible that they could not even be given the time of day, that they had to be dismissed for some reason — and none of those reasons had anything to do with their logical consistency.

Non-atheists wonder why we’re so angry. Of course we’re fucking angry. You would be too, if every time you tried to debate you got dismissed for reasons that don’t belong in any debate. If every time you tried to advance your point of view, you were surrounded by people doing nothing but attempting character assassination and not explaining what exactly you’re doing that’s so wrong and makes you so deserving of this assassination, and if you saw nothing different except when amongst those who agree with you on the point you’re trying to defend, you’d be livid. Wouldn’t you? You wouldn’t? Tell me that again, with a straight face. Tell me that after days, weeks, months, years even of getting this, that you wouldn’t get frustrated. Maybe you wouldn’t get mad the first time, but don’t tell me it wouldn’t pile up in the back of your head, slowly eating away at your unflappable temper until you discover that it’s really not as unflappable as you think.

You’re not unflappable. No one’s unflappable. At some point, you, like any of the rest of us, will have had enough of the bullshit, the silencing, the domination of the public square by this belief that is at the end of the day propped up by nothing.

Isn’t this supposed to be a democracy? Aren’t we supposed to have free expression of ideas? Aren’t ideas supposed to duke it out in the public square, fairly and honestly?

One idea is being dismissed. One idea is being told that it cannot participate, that it is wrong not because it is wrong but because some people are offended by it, they think it “angry” or “aggressive”, and they think its advancement dishonest. What is fair about this? What is honest about this? What is reasonable about this?

Would it be reasonable for me to tell a missionary that they are being angry and aggressive, and deny them the ability to put their religion into the public square on an equal ground on this basis? If not, then why is it reasonable to tell an atheist that?

Religion, in particular Christianity, has hogged the public square for far too long. Even 15 centuries is far too long to remain in childhood. Believers need to grow up and accept — really, not just grudgingly — that they’re not the only fish in the pond, and then re-evaluate whether they truly believe in a free and democratic society where all ideas are granted equal respect and judged on their factual and logical merit.

But for that to happen, non-atheists need to stop babying believers and rushing to their defense when atheists rightfully point out that they’ve stepped out of line and are acting like children and trying to monopolize debate (again). They need to stop being big brothers and start being parents, welcoming and accepting yet willing to bring down the hammer if necessary, upholding fairness and equality for both sides rather than just one.

Non-Christians in particular need to check their priorities. Fifteen centuries, people. Fifteen. Centuries. Christianity is now the largest religion by number of adherents, it dominates the political discourse in many countries; most notably the United States, where a party stacked full of Christian wingnuts (even by moderate standards!) currently owns enough of both legislative houses to block anything that they don’t like.

You defend them now. But how well do they defend you? You will find these nuts and their supporters spouting off a myriad of claims about how the United States is a “Christian nation”, how Christianity is seemingly required for one to be considered a Real American, et cetera. You can find sentiments to this extent all over outlets such as Right Wing Watch that devote themselves to chronicling the lies of the “Moral Majority”.

They came for the Muslims and you did not speak up because you were not Muslims. They are coming for the atheists and you are not speaking up because you are not atheists. How long will it be before they come after the agnostics? The spiritualists? The Hindus? The Buddhists?

What about all of you liberal Christians who disagree so vehemently with their politics while defending their religious sentiments? How long will it be before you are the last enemy that must be destroyed?

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