… the word “atheist” has become synonymous with one kind of non-believer: the kind that writes books about atheism and is not very nice about religion.
But there is more than one kind of atheist. And even in the pool of (mostly male) writers who are called “atheist fundamentalists,” there are many differences. Don’t confuse your Sam Harris with your Daniel Dennett, and although Victor Stenger or Richard Dawkins may mostly agree with Christopher Hitchens, there are many disparities as well.
I’m with her so far. Atheists are not all alike. Just like people of any one faith are not alike.
She does get in some other important points as well:
It isn’t that I am not angry at some believers. These days, many atheists are angry. And we should be.
We are not liked by most people in our own country, and we couldn’t win an election unless the other guy was a child molester. We are regarded as threatening, unethical and downright evil. We are rarely even invited to the table when discussions among different religions (or beliefs) are held. We have no representation, and we get very little respect.
Nica suggests that we could start getting a seat at the table as by not fearing the differences in opinions that we all do have:
If people admitted that they don’t know the answers to all the big questions and stop being frightened by the possibility that there is more than one answer (or no answer at all), then we might be able to start a discussion that would be worth having.
Well, I don’t think Nica’s talking to atheists here.
I’ve been fortunate enough the past year to work with Christians whom I can learn from and converse with. The understanding is there and it’s mutual. That’s not the issue, though:
Once we start, we might see that we have more in common than we all think. Once we all agree to disagree, once we set the rules that no side is trying to convince the other of its rightness or wrongness, once we clarify that we are simply trying to understand each other — and then move on to other topics of common interest — then the conversation about religion and its place in our society can really begin.
Agreeing to disagree is nice in practice — you avoid arguments and can continue with your normal routine. But atheists have put up with a lot of religious bulllshit for decades (and more) as a result of this. All of the major atheist authors are saying that we need to speak up and make our voice heard. And part of doing that means ripping apart the religious convictions we’ve just “respected” for so long. There’s something to that way of thinking. I think it’s possible to do all this with a friendly face. But a lot of people won’t care how it’s presented. When you say you disagree with their beliefs, they’ll just tune you out.
There are a lot of people who do have a good understanding of the other side. I don’t think the conversation about religion’s place is the big problem here. A much more loftier goal, but one we do need to work toward, is to get those people who understand the other sides (and can express doubt, and do ask the hard questions) in leadership roles. Instead of people like, say, Pat Robertson or former evangelical Christian pastor Ted Haggard.
Once that happens, we might actually be able to fix a lot of them problems in this country, especially the social justice ones.