Are You An Uncle Tom Atheist?

Austin Cline finishes the sentence “You might be an Uncle Tom Atheist if…

For example:

You might be an Uncle Tom Atheist if…

You Apologize for “Bad Atheists” Making Religious Believers Uncomfortable

It’s easy to see how generalizations about an entire class of people must be wrong, but bigots get around this by dividing a group into the “good” members who do what they are told and the “bad” (uppity) members who make the entire group look bad. Uncle Tom Atheists accept this division and thus also accept the principle that the actions of a few atheists can be classified as “bad” and thereby tarnish the reputations of all atheists. Whether the behavior of the “bad” atheists in question really is bad or not typically remains unaddressed for obvious reasons. By apologizing for other atheists, Uncle Tom Atheists tell religious believers that they have good reasons to be bigots and are therefore not immoral.

Is the list fair?

Do you fall into any of those categories?

How do you justify your actions?

  • http://www.anthroslug.blogspot.com anthroslug

    I rather agree with most of the list -though getting along in society often requires one to be calmer than may morally be called for.

    In the case of apologizing for “bad atheists” – I don’t. If someone is being a dick, I call them on it, regradless of religion. If someone expects me to apologize for a “bad atheist” I respond by demanding that they apologize for someone of their religious stripe (“okay, I’ll apologize for THAT guy if you apologize for Fred Phelps. What, Phelps doesn’t represent you? Now you know how I feel.”)

    If they are simply applying the double standard that allows them to talk about their beliefs, but expects non-believers to be quiet to keep them comofrtable, then I call them on that.

    Really, what it boils down to is that we can’t afford to make excuses for dicks because they are atheists, but we also shouldn’t be expected to apologize for them.

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    Maybe I’m stupid, but I don’t understand this.

  • J. J. Ramsey

    Pardon me for being impolite, but I think this “Uncle Tom atheists” stuff is a cutesy trick to discourage atheists from calling out other atheists on their bullshit. It reminds me of that appeaser nonsense.

    You Argue that Atheists are Responsible for the Bigotry Against Them

    I haven’t seen anyone argue this. I have seen it argued that reinforcing negative atheist stereotypes tends to make things worse. I’m sorry, but if you claim to value truth yet try to insinuate that theists are generally stupid or crazy, or just get lazy and argue as if you don’t give a damn about the facts or making sense, then you are a hypocrite and should expect to be scorned as such.

  • http://onlyaerik.blogspot.com/ Aerik

    The list is fair. Absolutely.

    Just like you when you call yourself the “friendly atheist” — it’s rather like a Jew trying to cozy up to a Catholic by saying, “yeah, but I’m not one of those sneaky jews!” or an Asian guy cozying up to somebody saying “but I’m not one of those inscrutable Asians!” or the Skepchicks, who think they’re fighting sexism by posing for sexist men. All the same delusional, self absorbed crap.

  • Eric

    “You Vote for Anti-Atheist Bigots as the Lesser of Two Evils”

    Because I’m a realist and would rather give them lube before fucking me than not. That doesn’t mean I’m going to just lay down and take it, it means that I pick the best REALISTIC option while arguing for my ideal.

  • J. J. Ramsey

    I noticed this choice bit:

    we don’t need to be civil when discussing racism, we don’t need to be nice when discussing neo-Nazis, and we don’t need to worry about the hurt feelings of White Supremacists. Uncle Tom Atheists dismiss this and insist on worrying about the hurt feelings of religious theists …

    Wait a minute, he’s likening theists to neo-Nazis and White Supremacists. This is a bit over-the-top.

  • Luther Weeks

    The only Bad Atheist is one who does not believe in 2499 gods but still believes in one.

    But the Bad Atheist otherwise might be a good person, just as good Atheists could be bad people.

  • http://notapottedplant.blogspot.com/ Transplanted Lawyer

    I think we should call other atheists out when they try and pull stupid stunts. Just because we don’t believe in an imaginary friend in the sky does not mean are somehow obligated to overlook or apologize for another “co-non-religionist” doing something dumb. Indeed, if we do, we lose credibility ourselves, and as a group.

    As for voting, what’s an atheist to do when all of the candidates appeal overtly to theists and use atheists as whipping boys? The answer is, given a bunch of bad alternatives, you pick the candidate who is closest to your views on other issues.

    Call them as you see them, I say.

  • http://falterer.blogspot.com Falterer

    You “Accommodate” Believers’ Demands to Have Special Privileges

    The word “special” isn’t clearly defined in that sentence, but remove it and it seems Cline is condemning tolerance itself. Should we deny people privileges just because they’re religious? That seems rather oppressive.

    You Argue that Atheists are Responsible for the Bigotry Against Them

    No, but I may argue that some atheists go to great lengths to ire the religiously inclined, which certainly isn’t helping anyone overcome their bigotry.

    You Apologize for “Bad Atheists” Making Religious Believers Uncomfortable

    J. J. Ramsey has it right. I won’t hold back condemning intolerance just because it comes from a fellow atheist.

    You Vote for Anti-Atheist Bigots as the Lesser of Two Evils … You Don’t Think Equality for Atheists is Very Important

    What if—just imagine—there really are more important things than what nonsense we print on our money? Unlike some religious voters, my beliefs about god don’t take priority over my love for fellow man. I’ll vote for whichever candidate I think my fellow man will ultimately and actually benefit most from. I’d rather lend my voice to the lesser evil than lend complicit silence to the election of the greater evil. Voting for a candidate I know won’t win seems little different from silence.

  • Aj

    I’ve only seen the first two, and only the first often. The last one I have heard of, the others I have no idea about.

    J. J. Ramsey,

    Wait a minute, he’s likening theists to neo-Nazis and White Supremacists. This is a bit over-the-top.

    Wait a minute, you quoted him out of context,intentionally misrepresenting his point to create a strawman. I say intentionally because the quote is so precisely cut.

    The full paragraph:

    Being nice to people is an important social value, but it’s not the only social value and there are times when not being nice — when incivility or derision — are called for. This is most plainly the case when we are faced with gross immorality: we don’t need to be civil when discussing racism, we don’t need to be nice when discussing neo-Nazis, and we don’t need to worry about the hurt feelings of White Supremacists. Uncle Tom Atheists dismiss this and insist on worrying about the hurt feelings of religious theists no matter what they are being criticized for. Uncle Tom Atheists put the feelings of religious believers first and the suffering of victims of faith-based crimes or immorality last.

  • http://bornagainblog.wordpress.com Justin

    From the above about voting for “anti-atheist bigots…”

    …I pick the best REALISTIC option while arguing for my ideal…

    This is a little off topic, but I want to respond to this commonly held, poorly thought out idea.

    On Tuesday I couldn’t help but think of the spring, when I’d been told that since there was “no way” Kucinich could win the primary, I was throwing away my vote by voting for him. I needed, therefore, to vote for some other NPR/CNN/FOX-approved candidate. If you vote for the one that “can’t win” you’re wasting your vote.

    On Tuesday as I walked into the polling station, I thought about this. See, I live in Oklahoma. There was “no way” Obama would win Oklahoma. So the same logic must have applied, right? I should have voted for McCain, right?

    Clearly, being “realistic” is just an excuse for not having the courage to take a stand against the herd.

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    You Apologize for “Bad Atheists” Making Religious Believers Uncomfortable

    No. But I do apologize for asshole atheists being assholes. Does that count?

    And yes, I’d vote for an anti-atheist bigot as the lesser of two evils… if the greater of two evils was also an anti-atheist bigot, or if they really were a whole lot more evil. As my good friend Nosmo King points out, What’s wrong with the lesser of two evils? It’s less evil! Less evil is better than more evil!

  • mikespeir

    Taking a stand is one thing. Going around slapping people who don’t agree with you is quite another.

  • http://merkdorp.blogspot.com J. J. Ramsey

    Actually, Aj, you hoisted yourself on your own petard. Take a closer look at the second thing that you bolded:

    Uncle Tom Atheists dismiss this and insist on worrying about the hurt feelings of religious theists no matter what they are being criticized for.

    “No matter what they are being criticized for”? We’re no longer discussing “gross immorality” at this point, but rather criticism of any kind, and if we take Austin Cline’s “no matter” seriously, that even includes unfair criticism. Also, notice that he’s using the term “religious theists” here rather than “religious bigots” or “religious bigotry.” The latter two are reasonably comparable to neo-Nazis and white supremacists, while the former is a far more general descriptor that covers Mike Clawson as well as Jerry Falwell.

    Justin:

    On Tuesday I couldn’t help but think of the spring, when I’d been told that since there was “no way” Kucinich could win the primary, I was throwing away my vote by voting for him….

    On Tuesday as I walked into the polling station, I thought about this. See, I live in Oklahoma. There was “no way” Obama would win Oklahoma. So the same logic must have applied, right? I should have voted for McCain, right?

    Actually, no, the same logic doesn’t apply. In the first case, you are talking about the defects in first-past-the-post voting when more than two parties are involved. For example, if two parties lean left and one leans right, the left-wing vote will be split between the first two, making it harder for either left-wing party to gain a majority. In the second case, you are presuming that there are only two choices, Obama and McCain, so the problem with third parties doesn’t apply.

  • TXatheist

    The only time I’m an uncle tom atheist is when I’m around family who I don’t wish to get into an argument with concerning atheism. Otherwise it’s ok to hurt someone’s feelings if they are willing to condemn my atheism, imo.

  • Lost Left Coaster

    Am I the only person that doesn’t like the racially charged term “Uncle Tom” being thrown around so lightly?

    Anyway, I really resent anyone trying to tell me how I should live my life as an atheist, what I should think, how I should approach all the issues. I think that is bullshit when Christians do that to each other (“You’re not a good Christian because you support abortion” or whatever such nonsense) and I think it is bullshit when another atheist says it to me.

    Is not the “Uncle Tom atheist” that he is railing against just a big strawman? This writer hasn’t, as far as I can tell, given a single concrete example of any atheists actually exhibiting the behaviors that he is calling out.

    I do not tolerate these demands for orthodoxy. If that makes me a bad atheist, so be it, but if I wanted to have some idiot calling me out for not being orthodox enough, then I would join an organized religion. Honestly.

  • http://mattstone.blogs.com Matt Stone

    Personally, when an Atheist demonstrates to me that he has the ability to discern the self absorbed idiots within his own camp as self absorbed idiots my respect for him goes up. Ah, i say, here is an Atheist who is truly a rationalist and not just a propogandist. An ability to discern is something I look for in Christian friends, it is something I look for in Atheist friends too.

  • Aj

    J. J. Ramsey,

    We’re no longer discussing “gross immorality” at this point, but rather criticism of any kind, and if we take Austin Cline’s “no matter” seriously, that even includes unfair criticism.

    It’s an expression refering to extremes. I understand if English isn’t your first language that you may not understand this convention. When someone says “anything goes” they’re not talking about the “anything”, they’re talking about extremes.

    Also, notice that he’s using the term “religious theists” here rather than “religious bigots” or “religious bigotry.”

    Austin Cline’s point is that it’s because they’re “religious theists” that they get a free pass. It’s not because they’re “religious bigots” that they get a free pass, and it’s not necessarily bigots he’s talking about when he is refering to gross immorality.

  • Polly

    Am I ever expected to apologize for the actions of anyone other than myself? Of course not. Whether it’s discomfort or downright wrong actions, I am not the one to blame. Only if I support such actions, would I apologize for my support.

    This is exactly why I don’t buy into Christians who make apologies on behalf of The Church(TM).

  • stephanie

    I find this article strikingly similar to many arguments for various religious ideas.
    I am not a person who is willing to prostrate myself to theists nor to those who happen to agree with me on Atheism. Just because we all happen to agree on this one topic does not mean we have any other similar world views. I do not vote only for Atheist candidates who are unlikely to get elected or whose views I disagree with except on the topic of religion. I find this article is pretty much saying if you aren’t an Uncle Tom to this one aspect of your life then you are an Uncle Tom to the forces opposing it. Please, that’s the sort of argument left to simpler minds.
    Call me what you like for not following party line 100%. In the end, indoctrination is indoctrination and as a confirmed skeptic I don’t agree with anything or anyone without due consideration. I’d rather think for myself, thanks.

  • http://merkdorp.blogspot.com J. J. Ramsey

    Aj: “It’s an expression refering to extremes.”

    Actually, it’s an expression referring to a wide gamut of possibilities. I understand what you are trying to say, namely, that “no matter what” isn’t literally “no matter what.” The catch is that even given that, “no matter what criticism” still includes a wide range of criticisms, and unless Cline is aiming at a phantom, he is aiming at criticisms that have actually been made. These criticisms include “You have an electrical fire in your head” and “You are infantile,” and understandably, these are the sorts of things that invite the calls for civility of which Austin Cline speaks.

  • Aj

    a) In the English speaking world it’s a common expression refering to an upper limit. There are songs, books, poems named “No Matter What”.

    b) I said what I meant clearly and with a simple example to make sure you understood.

    c) It’s “no matter what they are being criticized for” meaning whatever the “religious theists” are doing, that is being described as “gross immorality”.

    You don’t actually care what he is trying to say, you’re just being hypercritical for some reason.

  • J. J. Ramsey

    Aj, he also wrote

    there are times when not being nice — when incivility or derision — are called for. This is most plainly the case when we are faced with gross immorality [emphasis added]

    Clearly, he thinks that gross immorality is only one circumstance where incivility may be called for. Gross immorality is merely the plainest of these circumstances. Now on that much, I agree with him, but I doubt that we agree much on what circumstances do call for incivility. The last part is especially telling:

    Saying “I’m an atheist, but…” is an indirect way of apologizing for being an atheist in the first place

    Nonsense! Is saying “I’m a Christian, but …” or “I’m a animal right activist, but …” necessarily apologizing for being either of those things? “I’m a fill-in-the-blank, but …” is also a way of saying that one is not amongst the crazies in the fill-in-the-blanks. I don’t care to be lumped in with those credulous enough to buy pseudohistory so long as it’s anti-religious, or someone who calls an argument infantile only to come up with a needlessly half-assed rebuttal, or someone who dilutes the meaning of “child abuse,” or someone who responds with a non sequitur to an accusation that he is unscientifically making sweeping claims about Islam and religion with poor data.

    Aj:

    You don’t actually care what he is trying to say

    Actually, I do care about what he is trying to say, but it doesn’t take much to read between the lines. Austin Cline is responding to assorted criticisms from some atheists to other atheists. However, instead of doing this directly, he comes up with a picture of an Uncle Tom where the depictions of criticisms are recognizable on the one hand but on the other hand, are distorted as well. It’s a cutesy way variation on the Neville Chamberlain gambit, but tweaked so as to avoid the appearance of Godwinning.

  • Aj

    I take it this change of subject signifies that you concede that your representation of his point was entirely false.

  • J. J. Ramsey

    Aj: “I take it this change of subject signifies that you concede that your representation of his point was entirely false.”

    You were trying to argue that Cline was only talking about “gross immorality,” the extreme to which “no matter what” was supposed to point, according to you. I pointed out that this wasn’t the case.

  • http://bornagainblog.wordpress.com Justin

    @J.J. Ramsey I should have been more clear. I’m in Oklahoma where there are no third parties. There were two presidential choices on the ballot, McCain and Obama. There was only one independent running at all, for a state senate seat.

    Utterly embarrassing: we’re the only state whose counties went 100% red.


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