Why Strident Atheists Don’t Bother Me

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created image of freak out on atheismIn the decades I’ve been involved in the atheist and Humanist movements, I’ve seen many “inner-party” battles over policy, plans, and actions. Many atheists I know are very vocal to the point they piss off many of my Humanist friends. So-called strident atheists never bothered me because of simple points I keep in mind that lowers my threshold of annoyance. I wish more in the freethought community would keep these hints in mind.

An example of the infighting I’ve seen inside the freethought community can read in an essay by American Humanist Association President David Niose:

As I looked out at all the young people cheering for Richard Dawkins and Tim Minchin, however, I also realized how important it is that humanism, and not just atheism, be part of this revolution. Indeed, for humanists, the success of the secular movement is only half the battle. After all, humanism is not just an arm of secularism, but a hybrid of the secular movement and the progressive movement.

If this seems difficult to understand, bear in mind that Karl Rove is reportedly an atheist, but he certainly would not find the American Humanist Association to be a comfortable fit for his worldview. Atheism, which addresses only the issue of the existence of gods, has no social, political, or economic philosophy, nor must an atheist reject all supernaturalism. An atheist might believe in astrology, ESP, magic, and of course, even worse, the conservative politics of Karl Rove (though thankfully most don’t).

For Humanists, the Secular Movement Is Only Half the Battle

I agree with Niose that Humanism is the better way to achieve progressive policy goals but I didn’t appreciate the painting of atheism as only having people like Karl Rove. I personally know some Humanists who are anti-abortion and anti-gay rights for example.

Humanism has many aspects that are progressive like having humans solve human problems and supporting economic justice but Humanism isn’t automatically progressive – it still takes progressively minded people to move it that way.

I also feel that one of the primary principles of Humanism is non-theism. You can be a believer and be a humanitarian but you can’t be a Humanist.

With that said I don’t see why there has to be any family conflict. I never look to see how my Humanism is better than my atheism or anyone’s non-belief. We only make up about 20% of the population so we need to work together on common goals and not let differences get in the way – like writing an essay on a public website saying how much better your philosophy is than your brother’s.

Here are 5 points I use to maximize my relationships in the freethought community (note I didn’t create these but I agree with the intent):

Don’t assume everyone shares my principles – Principles are facts that are known to be true and thus are non-negotiable

Don’t expect that everyone knows my convictions – Convictions are the unspoken statements we make by living our lives derived from principles.

Don’t force others to conform to your standards – Standards are the practical day-to-day living out of my convictions. It is at this level that tolerance of another’s views is introduced to the matter. Tolerance means simply accepting or allowing something NOT requiring approval and/or promotion of it.

Know the difference between your standards and your preferences – The end result of the same specific task given to two different people may look very much the same. However, the route taken to arrive at that end result may have been worlds apart. (Example: Two co-workers drive entirely different roads to arrive at the same restaurant after work.)

Keep your hangups to yourself – We all have them and we all need to get over them. This is where “you’re a big boy… deal with it comes into play. (Example: Genuinely arguing with the aforementioned co-worker that your route is by far the better way and “here are the 11 reasons why.”) Seriously… who really cares?

Adapted from: 5 Keys To Making Molehills Out of Mountains

The last 3 points are the most important to me. I wish more people in the freethought community would adopt them so we would have less family squabbles.


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2 thoughts on “Why Strident Atheists Don’t Bother Me

  1. Charlie Lyons

    While misquoted (with glaring omissions, I might add), I do appreciate the nod to my website. It’s always interesting to see where common ground is found between what I share from Biblical Christianity and other world views. 🙂

    I appreciate your insights here; thought provoking indeed. 🙂

  2. Vir Narain

    It is sufficient for Humanists to reject RAP Morality and RAP God. We need have no quarrel with abstract, philosophical, impersonal concepts of God. As Hermann Bondi said
    “I think in this country we are too impressed by the concept of God. Many religions, like Buddhism and Confucianism, don’t have a God at all. On the other hand, Communism in its heyday had a ‘sacred text’ which were the writings of Marx and Lenin, and you justified an argument by referring to these writings. So it seems to me that the important thing is not the concept of God – indeed we cannot quarrel with an undefined God, for how can we disagree with a concept that is undefined. No, what makes a religion is a “revelation”. And it is the belief in a revealed truth that is the source of religious problems – that the Koran is the word of God, or the Holy Bible is the judge of everything. So in arguments with Christians, when you come to the word God you have already lost the battle. You must stress the revelation, that’s where the real disagreement lies, because if you are driven to a position where you have to deny the existence of an undefined quantity you are in a logical absurdity.”

    Since words are the only weapons with which the battles of ideas can be fought, those who are fighting for a new idea invariably start off with a disadvantage: their opponents are better armed with a well-established vocabulary strengthened by usage, custom and historical associations. New words may have to be coined, or old ones assigned a slightly different meaning, to express a new idea clearly. The survival and growth of the new word-idea combination depends almost as much upon the acceptability of the word as on the strength of the new idea. T H Huxley’s ‘agnosticism’ (1869) and G J Holyoake’s ‘secularism’ (1846) represent two successful innovations that have had a great influence on the development of Humanist thought.

    In the Humanist discourse on morality, however, there still seems to be a need to develop an adequate vocabulary. Narsingh Narain says: “We have to take note of two categories of good social behaviour, one being that which is motivated by hope of gain or approbation, or fear of loss or disapprobation…. and the other on a sense of values inherent in human nature and requiring no external sanction. The latter alone deserves to be called ‘moral’, I do not know any name for the former but will call it ‘law-abiding’ … It is basic to our position that morality and law-abidingness should be clearly distinguished and disentangled from each other.”

    However, it does not seem appropriate to characterise behaviour based on hope of reward or fear of punishment as law-abidingness. A person can (and most people do) adhere to the law because they consider it the right thing to do, and not out of fear of punishment – and the question of earning rewards for adhering to the law does not even seem to arise. In fact, it can be argued that lawful and unlawful behaviour belong to a different (though not entirely separate) domain from moral behaviour. Perhaps the most suitable word to describe good behaviour based on hope of reward or fear of punishment is ‘God-fearing’ morality; except that in current usage (and in dictionaries) it is generally used as a term of approbation. A God-fearing man is meant to be a virtuous man. Rap (reward-and-punishment) morality is clearer, and has no such flattering associations. Also, we should note the fact that the existing word ‘rap’ reinforces the intended meaning.

    The concept of rap morality leads to its source: a rewarding and punishing God. When Einstein said: “The main source of the present-day conflicts between the spheres of religion and science lies in the concept of a personal God.” he most probably meant a rewarding and punishing God. Others have used the terms ‘anthropomorphic’ God and ‘interventionist God’. The term ‘rap God’ is more direct and explicit, and establishes an immediate connection with rap morality. Within the Humanist movement there has always been a certain amount of difficulty in evolving a common approach to the various ideas covered by words like atheism, non-theism and agnosticism. New words, such as apatheism and irrelevantheism, have also been suggested. Atheists mostly reject all concepts of God (including those of eg Spinoza and Einstein). Non-theists presumably ignore the question of the existence or non-existence of God; and agnostics declare that they do not (or cannot) know. A pragmatic Humanist position in this matter would be that the Humanist Movement, as such, ignores the various claims about the existence of God as having no relevance to the practical conduct of human affairs, except that it categorically rejects the idea of a rewarding and punishing God who intervenes in human affairs. In other words: Humanism is is not concerned with the God of the philosophers; and rejects the God of the moralists. There should be no difficulty in achieving near-unanimity among Humanists on this formulation.

    The Humanist Minimum Statement could then be recast thus: “Humanism is a democratic and ethical life stance, which affirms that human beings have the right and responsibility to give meaning and shape tho their own lives. It stands for the building of a more humane society through an ethic based on human and other natural values in the spirit of reason and free enquiry through human capabilities. It is not theistic, in the sense that it ignores the various claims about the existence of God as having no relevance to the practical conduct of human affairs, except that it categorically rejects the idea of a rewarding and punishing God who intervenes in human affairs. It does not accept a supernatural view of reality.” (Variations emphasised)

    I
    By giving a name to the type of God, and the type of morality, we reject we will make the task of clarifying the basic Humanist position to the followers of traditional religions a little easier.
    -Vir Narain

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