Brian Sapient has a response for anyone who thinks the “aggressive” tactics they use are doing more harm than good for atheism:
We wish we could be the passive atheist, and it’s only after many years of experience in this realm (and being the passive atheist for a while) that we decided a more blunt approach from a few intellectuals is necessary and vital.
… a passive atheist can spend compassionate dialogue time helping the theist overcome religion, and will have a more receptive candidate after the individual was “shaken up” a bit. However it is entirely possible that the passive atheist will have little chance to help a friend overcome theism if that friend never had the RRS “shake up.”
I know I’m the type of person Brian is referring to when he uses the term “passive atheist.” And I think that term is a complete misnomer. I chair the board of one atheist organization. I am a voting member in another. I frequently give talks promoting the atheist viewpoint. I write a freaking blog about atheism. I wrote a book for a Christian publisher about one atheist’s view of churches (though my goal wasn’t to condemn Christianity). I don’t think there’s anything “passive” about my non-religiosity.
When he says we need “passive atheists,” what he means is that we need atheists who don’t piss off religious people.
And I’d agree with that.
I encourage any theist to read Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. But I do this knowing they’re unlikely to be “de-converted.” Most Christians I know who have opened the books were turned off by the blunt language. If they want to learn about atheism, they need to have it happen in a more sensitive way.
I should mention that some of the goals are different, too. Some atheists want to see a world without religion. Other atheists care more about being an accepted, respected view among others; If religion’s still around, that’s not the biggest problem. The latter group wants to see separation of church and state. The former group doesn’t want to see churches at all.
Sometimes, the groups overlap. They do service projects together, work on a lawsuit, or promote other groups’ work. I’d love to see that happen more often.
We’re still at a point when the “leaders” in both camps are on speaking terms and can work together. In the religious world, the two sides don’t ever seem to interact. (Can you envision Jim Wallis working alongside James Dobson on a frequent basis?)
So we atheists need to make the best of this opportunity. We can criticize the tactics the others use. But for now, we’re still in this together. We need the mutual support of each other.
And Brian should at least be commended for saying just that.