Why I’m Tired of Atheists Who Tell Atheists To Shut Up

Today Richard Dawkins’s website published a mostly thorough pushback piece I wrote about why I am tired of atheists routinely being told by other atheists not that we’re wrong or just that we should be civil, but that we should basically shut up and stop our attacks on theism for one reason or another. Check it out.After that post, I followed up also with one answering those who worry that I am demanding that they argue with theists even if they loathe the idea of doing so.

I left out one key reason we in relatively cushy places to be atheists have to not shut up about atheism–solidarity with those millions living in places where their atheism is persecuted and driven into the shadows. One such atheist, A.N., responded to my piece privately with his reasons to not be silent:

You make this point at the end of your article, I want to say it in a different way: I’m an atheist who lives in Iran. Iran is not only a theocracy, but also a very deeply religious country. Most people, when it comes to atheists, simply say “you don’t exist”. Atheists are a minority that not only face discrimination (we are simply not recognized as citizens and have zero rights), and violence (atheism can be punished by death, and also, if some religious person even SUSPECTS you’re an atheist and murders you, he won’t be punished for it), not only they are completely ignored and censored, their very existence is under question. It’s not enough for them to claim that we are immoral, stupid, and sub-human, also we don’t exist. There are no atheists in Iran. I’m openly atheist. When I say it, the reaction is usually “no you’re not”. Or “you only think you are”. And you never hear about us in public discourse, NEVER.

To me, being vocal about my atheism is not only about finding the truth or convincing others. It’s primarily about survival, it’s about not giving in to painful and endless pressure. It’s about making sure that I remain who I am, that intimidation doesn’t silence me. Otherwise, I will disappear, I will be a nothing that no one ever takes notice of, and I treat the truth that I have found like a shameful guilty secret. They don’t want to hear us. But I won’t let them.

I won’t shut up about atheism. I don’t have money, guns, an army, a political lobby, I have absolutely zero power. The only thing I have in this world is my voice, and I will not forsake my only property and my only footprint in this world solely because my existence is an inconvenience that people like to ignore. If their religion is so fragile that my weak voice can threaten it – if their armies of executioners and their cacophony of media and their forests can suddenly be threatened by a meager voice in an insignificant corner, that says more about them than it says about me.

I’m more than a little embarrassed I forgot to mention those in such situations as these in my litany of reasons not to shut up about atheism.

Gayle Jordan has also passed on to me a really good post she wrote on the same theme (i.e., why she won’t stfu about religion). In it she lists a lot more specifically the values problems in religions that I mostly assumed in my post. Check it out!

On the subject of writing I’m doing for outlets other than Camels With Hammers, here are my posts so far in my series boiling down my views on ethics over at Empowerment Ethics blog, in case you’ve missed any or would like to see how I answer one of the particular common questions that I have already addressed there:

Introducing Empowerment Ethics
“Who Is Anyone To Tell Others What To Do?”
“How Can We Find External Criteria To Assess Morality’s Truth and Authority?”
“Is Empowerment Ethics Atheistic?”
“Can Morality Mean Something Other Than Absolutist Morality?”
“Is Morality Just Subjective?”

Your Thoughts?

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • http://batman-news.com Anton

    I respect your position.

    It’s important for society to acknowledge and normalize nonbelief, and it won’t do that without people demanding recognition. So the best thing is for atheists to have a positive message, and communicate what their perspective can offer in the way of support for causes that should concern everyone. And the less nonbelievers who seem fixated on making other people abandon their false beliefs the better.

  • GCBill

    I enjoyed your essay. I did not know that metaphysicians leaned so heavily atheistic – had I ventured a guess, I would’ve suspected a slight predominance, not a supermajority. I also liked your point about the dishonesty of comparing popular atheism with sophisticated theology. I’ve even seen “sophisticated” theologians doing this, and it amuses me – because if you scrape the bottom of the theology barrel, you get even less substance than you would on r/atheism.

    Then I made the mistake of reading the comments. Though I agree that the essay was verbose, the amount of “TL;DR – STFU” over there was truly disheartening. The comment praising the brevity of Hitchens/Dawkins was especially funny, as they have never argued as thoroughly or effectively as you do. Those commenters couldn’t handle reading the best philosophy that undergirds their position.

    • http://camelswithhammers.com/ Dan Fincke Camels With Hammers

      Yeah, the commenters over there were that way with another link to me last week. It’s sad, but inevitable. Thanks for the support.

  • Liralen

    Well, my first thought was “What atheists are you talking about?” then my second thought was “Maybe they aren’t atheists?”, because I’ve disagreed with you a lot, but then, I’ve never been an atheist.

    Then I read the comments.

    You didn’t deserve that at all. Makes me really appreciate your website even more, where people are required to avoid ad hominems. Thank you for that. And I really enjoy reading what you have to say.

    • http://camelswithhammers.com/ Dan Fincke Camels With Hammers

      You didn’t deserve that at all. Makes me really appreciate your website even more, where people are required to avoid ad hominems. Thank you for that. And I really enjoy reading what you have to say.


      Then I read the comments.

      You didn’t deserve that at all. Makes me really appreciate your website even more, where people are required to avoid ad hominems. Thank you for that. And I really enjoy reading what you have to say.

      It’s alright. The squeaky wheels are always the loudest and this is an inevitable downside of venturing outside my own existing audience. You find more people who reflexively can’t stand your style while reaching out to those who will like it. So, frustrating as it is, it doesn’t bother me very much. They’re not even quibbling with the content or making outlandish accusations or anything, so it’s really pretty mild. It’s annoying that a piece of popular rhetoric is ignorantly lumped in with obscurantist philosophy (when there’s nothing at all obscurantist about what I’m saying), but again, that’s people’s anti-philosophical prejudices and ignorance making them incapable of even discriminating genre or content with any skills of recognition. I would probably lose such bad readers no matter what I did.

      It was probably a mistake to take so long in the piece getting off the ground. That hyperbolically long early paragraph of means of communication was meant to be a joke but it seems to have really backfired and soured people against the length of the post from the start. That’s my fault. I especially shouldn’t have done that with a new audience. Wasn’t thinking about that when writing because when I started it I hadn’t yet thought of sending it to the Dawkins site and engaging a new audience.

  • Cylon

    Eviction notices? I don’t think I’m on board with messages delivered in that format. ;)

  • LonesomeDove

    (atheism can be punished by death, and also, if some religious person
    even SUSPECTS you’re an atheist and murders you, he won’t be punished
    for it)

    Well isn’t that a nice scary thought?…

  • ImRike

    I just read your essay. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!