Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Skatje Myers nailed it

PZ Myers' teenage daughter explains two methods of successfully discussing atheism:

It’s moderate atheists’ job to speak nicely to theists and get them to hear the message, but it’s the militant atheists’ job to get the moderates out of the closet and active. Do they scare away some theists entirely? Probably, but those are most likely the most unchangeable anyway. And it still doesn’t outweigh the need for angry atheists and their “rudeness”.

Of course the two styles are both very familiar to me. The first is The Atheist Experience, and the second is The Non-Prophets.

Edit: Updated to include a link to the original post in the first sentence.


  1. Every similar social movement has had the same pairing of styles: the protestant reformation, abolition, women's suffrage, the civil rights movement of the '60's, the gay rights movement, etc. Any time that a minority group seeks equality in the face of traditional prejudices, the same social dynamic develops.

    Like Skatje, I have been arguing for some time that a combination of approaches is our best hope for instituting real change, but I doubt that such advice will be heeded. The sometimes vicious arguments between supporters of the disparate styles also seem to be inevitable in these situations.

  2. This post makes me think of two things:

    1. A woman wrote in once to say she thought nobody should be rude--and that, as an atheist, she was ashamed to be represented by those types. While I have a history of not accepting--for myself and for personal reasons--rude dialogue (I try not to be rude, and I try to stop others from being rude to me), I don't usually slam anyone else for doing it. The most I'll do is make an argument for why _I_ don't do it. But a lot of that has to do with goals--and not everyone shares my personal goals.

    I wrote back to this woman and told her that for every letter we got criticising Jeff Dee, we got half a dozen that say they love him. And I pointed out that no one style of argumentation is the "official" atheist style. Even though I agreed with her reasons for wanting unemotional dialogue--I had to point out that she had no data to show that our opinion wasn't a minority one. I tried to make her see that offering a variety of styles might be beneficial in that not everyone responds to the same things in the same way.

    2. Recently I was discussing some of the religion-driven items that have been coming out of our government. The guy I was talking to said something like: "These things always work themselves out. You just have to be patient."

    I pointed out that they "work themselves out" because there are some people willing to do the work to push back whenever a line is crossed. Society is like a bell curve. We have people on both ends of the spectrum (passionate people on the "A" side and on the "Z" side), and more and more people as you get to the middle, who have different (less passionate) levels of concern for any given issue. If the "A" side starts to gain more extremists, some of the people in the middle will become more extreme on the "Z" side, because they are seeing a greater threat growing from side "A".

    I don't like to be on either end. However, the more push I get from "A"--the more I feel a need to speak up. I don't feel the need to be rude about it. But I do feel a need to express my dissatisfaction with certain situations. And just getting the ideas out in the open is a big part of resolving the problems.

  3. Wow. Myers is pretty sharp.

    Off topic, I've begun my own cartoon strip on my blog. Hope you'll get a kick out of it. So far I just created some of the main characters, but I've already written down plenty of ideas/concepts.


  4. Myers hit it dead on, and her advice is to me, the most practical to follow.

    For me, I wish that being an open atheist wouldn't be so hard; I am 13 years old and I come from a Hindu background from India, and by being an open atheist, I risk being excommunicated from my family. Thanks to the Atheist Experience, I've finally had the courage to stand up, and at least let the people around me know that I'm an Atheist and I help a few agnostics around move towards atheism.

    I however feel that the militaristic atheists should be strictly diplomatic, and should not openly insult any religious group, and at this stage of our development, show tolerance. This way, we do not create enemies very quickly, and we will be able to recruit more atheists.

  5. Anonymous:

    One huge problem is trying to define what constitutes an insult as opposed to a valid criticism:


    If I think someone's ideology is harmful--is it "an insult" to say so if I'm able to logically and calmly discuss why I believe that?

    Many religious people try to label any criticisms as disrespectful or insulting. This is a tool that is used to try and make themselves appear to be victims of attack by "militant" atheists. In reality, in most instances, the atheist is simply calling the religionist on an actual negative point in his belief system.

    If I point out that the Bible claims that god not only endorses slavery and infantacide, but actually commanded it from his followers in many instances--I'm not being insulting. This is a fact.

    If I point out that Xians in the U.S. trample on the rights of others, such as women, gays, and people of other faiths (or of no faith), I'm not being insulting. I can back this up with real information.

    I have seen more than a few examinations of "militant" atheist views; and the ones mainly in question--such as Dawkins--are hard to criticize when you ask if what they're saying actually has merit in fact.

    If you claim beings exist that cannot be shown to manifest in any way verifiable to mankind--am I insulting you if I call you "delusional"? But isn't that the definition of delusional--to believe in things that aren't there?

    It is easy to stand up and say, "You called me delusional! You're just being insulting!" but the truth is that if you can actually lay out a valid argument that shows that I'm as delusional about my god as some guy who thinks he's Napoleon...well, in such a case, is it wrong or insulting to say I'm delusional, since I actually am?

  6. I posted this yesterday to the wrong comment section. I meant to put it here...

    I should also point out that I have no agenda to "recruit" anyone to atheism. While I wish people held rational beliefs. I totally respect their right to believe whatever nutty stuff they choose--so long as it's just their personal ideas and not something they're trying to subjugate anyone else to.

  7. stick it to em. lets start treating them the same. go bugging them door to door. if they believe in christ then thier evil! then see how they like it. slander thier name and beliefs! go to a church and rip a bible in half on the stage, and have someone videotape it. "i swear its fun, but dangerous." we should gather in mass protest, protest the hate we feel from all sides and then throw it in thier face! protest the religious presence in our government. how come the people who down us and slander us, are the factions that run our country?

    be proud of your disbelief!
    throw it in the open.
    have an atheist bumper sticker.
    if some one tells you to fear god tell them to fuck off! thats what i do. got my beliefs spray painted all over my car. it gets attention from both sides. love when the holyrollers talk shit directly to me cuz then i give them the ol'e verbal bitch slap. and then i offend the fuck outta them. its soo much fun giving them a taste of thier own medicine. try it.


  8. Well, I can certainly sympathize with your angry-atheist stance. Still, if you aren't careful, you can overdo that sort of thing, and then you just play into the stereotypes they have that atheists are bad, mean, miserable people. My take on the whole thing is you get what you give. If a Christian is willing to be civil with me, I'll be perfectly civil back. Come off like an asshole, like Dan Marvin or our boy Troy, and expect the abuse to come back tenfold.


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