… I’m willing to take a leap of faith and concede that yes, if we want a strong, diverse community, we need both sides. But to make this happen, folks: we need to start practicing what we preach.
That means that if we want to continue touting the idea that the secular movement is one with diversity of opinion, and that the “Good Cops” and “Bad Cops” are equally welcomed, we need to act like it. We need to stop decrying the “accommodationists” and start supporting them, especially because they’re so underrepresented. When they’re the sole individuals encouraging polite, snark-less conversation with the faithful, let’s try to not storm out of the room in a huff. Like it or not, atheism desperately needs an image change, and this will only occur through the works of people willing to put anger aside and learn how to interact with religious people in a positive manner. Yes, we need the angry atheists too — but in my opinion, at a time of surplus in one area, let’s look to what we’re lacking in another.
Frequent commenter on this site, Hitch, adds in his two cents:
I don’t think we need angry atheists. We need honest atheists. And people are brilliant at framing honesty as anger. I do not want to be outraged when yet another atheist gets expelled from work or school simply for being. And I do not advocate that we should get angry. But I do advocate that we should not, in fact cannot be silent, even if people try to characterize that speaking out as being angry.
This debate isn’t going to end anytime soon… I agree with Lucy that we need both sides. Frankly, I’m not even sure which side I’m on anymore. It depends on the issue.
The truth is different religious people react to us in different ways. Some of them will be much more receptive to the kinder, gentler atheists. Some will be so stubborn that you need a more blunt approach to get through to them.
We need the angry, the sweet, the Brights, the Humanists, the Atheists-with-a-capital-A, the Blasphemy Challenge, the Muhammad drawings, the Secular Pinky Swear, and everything in between.
If you don’t like what a group does, then say so. We shouldn’t fear constructive criticism. But let’s always remember the focus of the particular issue. If religion is doing harm, we need to make people aware of it. If our rights are being threatened, we need to get that corrected. Some of us want everybody to become atheists while others could care less.
When a movement grows, there will be factions within it. But if we want to increase our visibility and respectability (to quote the Secular Coalition for America’s mission statement), we need to make ourselves known.
I fear that if we’re constantly fighting over tactics, we’re missing out on a golden opportunity to actually get something done.
Not to mention there’s so much we all (well, almost all) agree on — like the importance of coming out as an atheist. Again, we are atheists for different reasons. It’s not like one voice or one book or one tactic converted all of us. There’s no need to try to silence our own people if they’re speaking the truth, even if you don’t like the way they’re going about doing that.