When Atheists Attack… Each Other

The August/September 2012 issue of Free Inquiry is out and I have an article in it about how atheists can be pretty abrasive online… to other atheists.

The backdrop of the issue is “the new activism,” one that looks beyond just the logic and reason and arguments and actually helps people get through the day. As editor Lauren Becker writes:

Secular humanism should not be about defeating one’s fellow humans. Yes, of course we need to win arguments, but the point of winning the argument should be winning the person, holding onto the person while he or she lets go of the harmful beliefs.

One of the most proven and effective ways to do this is to translate our good arguments into good actions, which can often speak louder than words. The way we live and treat one another can be one of the best arguments for our worldview. For the times when our words aren’t effective, we ourselves can be the best evidence for the value of secular humanism.

My article for the issue involves how we often tear each other apart online, feelings-be-damned:

As soon as there’s a disagreement with other atheists — over sociopolitical views, the way we interact with religious people, activism methods, or even the nature of elevators — we turn on the “demonize” switch without a second thought. It’s true that atheists are alike only in the fact that we don’t believe in God, but one would hope more of us would treat each other with respect when we disagree. It’s not enough, it seems, to use reason and logic to pick apart another person’s argument. We also have to resort to name-calling or imply that the person is a traitor to our cause. I’ve heard atheist “firebrands” say that they support having more diverse voices in the conversation only to throw those attempting an alternative approach under the bus. Forget any potential merits to the alternatives; the battle is won only when you’ve made yourself feel superior.

We’re supposed to be better than that. We have a “post first, ask questions later” mentality when we could (in many cases) just write the other person an e-mail or call them to hash out disagreements. But part of being in an Internet-based community is that we air our dirty laundry for the world to see even when it hurts us all in the long run.

Looking forward to the comments on that one… :)

Also in the issue, Alix Jules has a really great piece on being a black activist:

Though African Americans will reluctantly accept separation of church and state, they will not willingly accept separation of church and race.

It wasn’t until I became hell-bent on disproving secularists’ claims of moral equity and relativism — on addressing the challenges to my scripture — that I came to understand the fallacies of my own arguments. My very journey to validate my faith undid it. By the end of my exploration, I found I had given up my faith but also unwittingly signed over my “black card.” I went from being a Doubting Thomas to also being an Uncle Tom.

And Rebecca Hensler writes about why she started Grief Beyond Belief:

I found myself alienated by other grieving parents’ constant talk of being reunited with their children someday. I had no patience with credulous stories of signs from beloved sons and daughters. Every time a mother referred to the day her child died as his or her “angelday” brought me one step closer to the obvious conclusion: what I really needed would not be found through mainstream grief support.

You can check out selected articles from the issue here.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Karmakin

    Huh?

    It’s not the firebrands who are intent on “throwing people under buses”, most of whom acknowledge that wide variety of approaches are best, it’s the “centrists” (Protip: It’s ALWAYS the centrists) who think that only one approach works, and that people who are not doing it their way are hurting the cause. 

    • 3lemenope

      …it’s the “centrists” (Protip: It’s ALWAYS the centrists) who think that only one approach works…

      Srsly?

      • JohnK

        I think I know what karmakin means… in the Christian community and also in politics I often see people at either extreme (Conservative or liberal) acknowledging the fact that they are extreme. Centrists, on the other hand, sometimes feel, “Hey, I’m a centrist, which means that I have weighed the options, I’m right down the middle, I’m safe, I’m above reproach, I’m smart, not crazy like the extremeists, therefore, I am 100% correct.”  
        Personal insecurity is often at the root of a centrist mindset, (fear of criticism, etc) and insecure people are more likely to “throw someone under the bus.” 

      • 1000 Needles

        I think it’s a fair generalization. I’ve never seen an outspoken atheist complain about other atheists being too polite. (And I’m aware that this could be falsified by even a single example.)

        However, the accommodationist atheists, such as Chris Mooney, are well known for tut-tutting and finger-wagging at the more outspoken atheists, and claiming that being too outspoken and uncivil is hurting the cause.

        They make this claim despite the overwhelming number of non-believers that attribute their deconversion to Dawkins, Hitchens, PZ, et al.

        Here’s a good example of Mooney’s concern-trolling: http://www.pointofinquiry.org/chris_mooney_accommodationism_and_the_psychology_of_belief/

        • Aritraya

           Sure, no-one ever says “You’re too polite” they say “I’m not going to lie to protect the feelings of theists” [implication: Being polite is lying], “I’m going to tell the truth without regard for how it makes crybabies feel” [implication: it is not possible to tell the truth without being rude], “Sure, don’t offend the theists, but anything offends them, so you’re going to have to stop talking about atheism” [implication: If we care about being polite, we care about not saying anything that would offend any theist fanatic, as if we haven't got our own standards about what is polite and what is boorish, anti-humanist behaviour]

    • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

      that’s the most amazingly detached from reality comment i’ve ever seen. The idea that the firebrands are somehow bastions of welcome for differing opinions is so at odds with reality…I don’t even know where to begin.

      • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke, orphan

        please. generalize much? i’m pretty radical and one of the things i pride myself on is tolerating and accepting anyone’s views so long as they are held consistently and with intellectual and ethical honesty. i love my BIL and we couldn’t be more different in our views. most of my friends are the same way, and if we’re mostly alike it’s not like we’re intolerant of those who don’t share our views. it’s completely possible to be a firebrand and respect your opponents, the ones who deserve respect, at least. 

        • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

          and there’s your out. It’s the one most people use:

           it’s completely possible to be a firebrand and respect your opponents, the ones who deserve respect, at least. 

           

          And who falls into that category? Well, depending on whose blog you read, a remarkably small amount of people who disagree with you. Funny that.

          Also, a single data point doesn’t make the problem go away, or not be a problem. *YOU* may not be a part of the problem, but *YOU* are not everyone. The problem is an actual problem. Maybe instead of looking for reasons to dismiss it and pretend it doesn’t exist, you should think about how to actually solve it.

  • 1000 Needles

    “I’ve heard atheist “firebrands” say that they support having more diverse voices in the conversation only to throw those attempting an alternative approach under the bus.”

    [citation needed]

    • Gordon Duffy

       I see it happening the other way round a lot, I must have missed the outliers.

    • Cheron22

      Don’t you know asking for evidence is often seen as throwing fellow atheist under the bus. 

    • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com/ trivialknot

       Hemant talks about several specific cases in the full article:

      1. People criticizing the Mid Ohio Atheists billboard design
      2. PZ’s insults against Alain de Botton
      3. The whole Edwina Rogers thing
      4. People calling Sam Harris a bigot for his articles on profiling

      I can think of many reasons to disagree with these examples, but you can’t say he didn’t cite them!

      • 1000 Needles

        Alain de Botton wasn’t criticized for “trying a different approach.” Alain said, on CNN:

        “Probably the most boring question you can ask about religion is whether or not the whole thing is “true.” Unfortunately, recent public discussions on religion have focused obsessively on precisely this issue, with a hardcore group of fanatical believers pitting themselves against an equally small band of fanatical atheists.”

        Just like every other wannabe-centrist, he couldn’t make his case without shitting on the methods and hard work of many other atheists. He basically called anyone that’s spent time and effort on counter-apologetics or scientifically testing the claims made by religion as “obsessive” and “fanatical.” PZ properly called him out for being a douchebag.

        As I mentioned in another comment, Dawkins, PZ, and other famous atheists each have a fat stack of letters from people that credit them with their deconversions. This is a direct refutation of Alain’s claim of a “small band of fanatical atheists” that care about the truth claims of religion.

        To summarize, Alain wasn’t criticized for his approach. He was criticized for being wrong and being a dick.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

          But asking whether religion is true *is* boring. It’s boring because we already know it’s not true. The more interesting questions lie in what to do with that knowledge — how to raise kids, handle important parts of your life, etc. without god. We don’t have all those answers yet. That’s what he was trying to say. And I say this as someone who does everything I can to get people to stop believing in god.

          • 1000 Needles

            Regardless of what he was trying to say, the fact is that he did call other atheists “obsessive” and “fanatical.” 

            Which demonstrates the point that some of us have been trying to make: If Alain de Botton wants to focus on the post-religious questions, then great! Good for him. But just like other accommodationists, he couldn’t focus on his approach without denigrating others.

            Why are you being so generous in your interpretation of Alain’s words while being so critical of PZ’s? It seems like you are applying two different standards here.

            • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

              Because I didn’t think PZ even allowed for the possibility that there might be something to the things religious people do that might have some value for us. It was wrong because de Botton said it, and that was that.

        • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com/ trivialknot

          Actually, I thought the Alain de Botton example was qualitatively different from all the other examples for another reason.  The Mid Ohio Atheists are a tiny little group trying their best.  The SCA was really trying to find the best director.  And even though I don’t like Sam Harris, I can’t deny he’s a leader in the movement.

          De Botton, on the other hand, is an outsider who happens to be an atheist.  I had never heard of him before, but he seems to be a self-help author?  I think he really is a tone troll, in a way that Hemant Mehta definitely is not.  When his only contribution to the movement is unsolicited advice on tone, that’s tone trolling.  Therefore, I do not see attacking de Botton as attacking our own.

          • Pseudonym

            Alain de Botton is not a self-help author. He’s one of those things that only exist in Europe: a public philosopher. But I can see why you thought that; self-help authors are probably the closest thing that the US has, in the same way that bankrupting patients was, until recently, the closest thing that the US had to health care.

            De Botton’s argument is actually part of a broader point that Hemant and Dale McGowan have both touched on repeatedly, namely, that atheism must provide something more compelling and more useful to people than an opinion on the non-existence of deities, and that in doing so, it’s okay to raid religion for its best ideas.

            In particular, de Botton is concerned with the lack of accommodation for people who are naturally, for lack of a better word, mystics. Many people have a deep need for ritual and transcendence, and there need to be non-theistic ways to accommodate that. It’s this idea which is met with (in de Botton’s opinion) obsession and fanaticism on the part of some atheists who personally have no need for that.

  • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

    I’ve never attended any sort of atheist conference or gathering (and probably never will). In face-to-face conversation, is this sort of “throwing people under the bus” behavior common? I ask because of the observation that on professional science forums, my colleagues can be quite abrasive… much more so than they generally are at conferences and workshops. There’s something about the online environment that makes it much easier for us to be uncivil… partly, I’m sure, because many nuances of communication are lost, but also because of its inherent anonymity. (As a strong believer in civility- online or not- that’s one reason that I always post under my real name, and make no effort to conceal my identity. It helps keep me both honest and civil.)

    • http://twitter.com/the_ewan Ewan

      I’m not sure it’s always simply a matter of ‘civility’. I think we can often have vehement disagreements and uncompromising arguments that might look bad to people more used to sweeping things under the rug, but I think that openness is good thing.

      Hemant often prods religious folks to be more critical of their extremists, rather than just quietly ignoring them, but it’s not the done thing in a lot of mainstream society. That enables things like the Catholic Church’s anti-women campaigning, despite the fact they’re not supported by a lot of ordinary Catholics – ‘civility’ stops them speaking out and condemning what they know to be wrong.

      That’s not a problem we have, and I think we should be glad of that.

      • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

        Civility should never be a barrier to speaking out or condemning what is wrong. It should never prevent people from having vehement disagreements. It need never interfere with a degree of wit, nor a degree of mockery. All these things are possible while maintaining civility… and a person who is able to do that is far more likely to change minds (if not that of the person he’s engaging, then those of the passive observers).

        In any case, I don’t mean to suggest that this is “simply” a matter of civility, only that it’s well known that people interact quite differently online than they do in person- and I assume this holds as true for atheist activists as it does for everybody else.

      • Pseudonym

        There’s a middle ground between not saying anything in public and blurting out every little thing that comes into your head.

        The latter is what happens when a Hollywood movie character is supernaturally forced to tell the truth. I used to think that this was unrealistic and broke the suspension of disbelief, but actually, Internet forums and comment threads appear to be pretty close to it.

  • Mitch W.

    I recently ran across and article at Cracked.com that I think addresses the issue of the why even the most rational people will behave in an very emotional way.  I always thought that many people are rational, and some are not.  Fact of the matter is, we all suffer from emotional irrationality more than we care to admit, and it takes some effort to prevent your emotions from getting the best of you.  http://www.cracked.com/article_19468_5-logical-fallacies-that-make-you-wrong-more-than-you-think.html

    Also related is an 18 minute TED Talk about Being Wrong.  http://www.ted.com/talks/kathryn_schulz_on_being_wrong.html

    Enjoy.

    • brianmacker

      Being emotional is often rational.

  • Octoberfurst

     I don’t know what it is about the Internet that makes people rude and uncivil but it does. (I suppose it is the anonymity. People say things to others they would never say face to face.)  I always try to be civil–key word being “try”.  But I admit there are times when I get pissed off at something someone wrote and I go for the jugular. I am not proud of that but it’s the truth.  I do my best not to have a knee-jerk reaction and to respond with facts and logic and to not resort to personal attacks. And mean-spirited responses are not just done by atheists—they are done by everyone online!  I have seen some pretty nasty comments that Christians have said to one another on Christian sites.
    So this is something we ALL need to work on.

    • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

      “Internet Balls” is the phrase I use. I’ve had more people threaten to beat my ass online than I can count, and yet only one time has anyone actually even come CLOSE to that. Ironically, that person had never said diddly to me online.

      For example, “gelatogate”. All the people thundering mightily about the entire thing and “fuck him into the ground”, not a damned one of them found the spine to walk into the shop and actually talk to the guy in person. Only after being hundreds of miles away or more did the balls come out.

      It’s so common that PZ encoded it at one point in his tips for new commenters: http://www.bynkii.com/bynkiidotcomimages/pzsezgetoverit.png

      He talks about it all the time…”I’m really nice and cuddly in person”. It’s only on the web that he’s THUNDER FROM ABOVE.

      It’s not just him, you see it, as you pointed out in every community. Hell, put up a negative review of a friggin’ batman movie, and duck the millions of internet balls that will be swung your way.

    • http://www.tumblr.com/blog/his-divine-shadow His Shadow


       (I suppose it is the anonymity. People say things to others they would never say face to face.)

      The quality of comments on many sites that have Facebook only comment sections handily disprove this. People have no problem making death threats, personal attacks, or even being just plain objectionable while displaying their real names. Anonymity may enable fucktardery, but it’s also plainly evident that people can be assholes without prompting.

  • Le Fennec

    Hemant,

    You are a hypocrite of the worst kind. You go and pen this article for The Humanist and try to present yourself as some moderate all-loving man. You are intolerant and choose to censor when you wish. You banned me when I went against the grain on a blog entry of yours that was about how you were angry the Michigan Senate banned a female senator for speaking up against the brian.

    Your actions are one of the problems with the atheist/secular movement. You show direct actions of hypocrisy and then have the stones to write this article for The Humanist.

    You show unflagging sycophantic behavior for the late Chris Hichens who had the guts and stones to stand up when needed, even against the atheists themselves, yet when you are presented with the same thing from a lesser known and famous person, you censor them.

    You and PZ are singlehandedly becoming the “look at us in the pretty dress” crew. “Give me money on an inside joke and I will get a tattoo”…..

    I challenge you to actually sit down and think about your actions, for real, no ad homs. Think about it. And I will happily meet in any studio, any radio station, any TV show to debate you on this. Facts are, you are hurting us and not helping us.

    • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

      it’s kind of easy to say anything about anyone when your actions and words can only be judged where you choose to use the same ‘nym.

    • Sfugly

      Kudos to you!! Couldn’t have said it better myself.

    • http://twitter.com/butterflyfish_ Heidi McClure

       You don’t appear to be banned now…

    • http://www.summerseale.com/ Summer Seale

      I’ve often disagreed with Hemant and many people here, in a very public way in the threads themselves, and I’ve never been banned or even warned about being banned.

      I’m not saying that it couldn’t ever happen, but I am saying that it hasn’t happened yet.

    • brianmacker

      Funny, Hemant has never banned me and I’m not at all shy of criticizing bloggers in their own comments. I’m banned by PZ for example. You need to make a bigger effort at proving your claims. Links would be helpful, and proofreader your comment because I can’t tell what you are talking about. What is “speaking up against the brain”?????

  • Kodie

    You know, I was just thinking that atheists challenge each other more. We’re not all friends, we’re not all right, or all wrong, we come from different backgrounds. We’re not hippies (even if some of us are, but not the same thing as being hippies). I think there’s more than one way to be an atheist and we need all of them. I don’t say some atheists make all the other atheists “look bad.” That’s the wrong way to think. Since we don’t really have the equivalent of sects or denominations, outsiders tend to think we are all like one thing and any one of us represents all the others. We are ourselves, representing ourselves, unless we belong to an organized association toward some cause. Even some atheists make assumptions or generalizations about all atheists, they always need to be challenged. We don’t have a “bible,” we’re not all scientists, we’re not all angry, or passionate, if you like. We have different experiences, different fields of study, different lifestyles, different areas of expertise or interest. Most of us, but not all of us, would like accomplishments to be made for secularity/humanism/science/politics/visibility, some or none of the above.

    We just don’t believe there’s a god. I don’t think this is a battle, but those of us online and invested in issues tend to challenge one another, especially because it’s more interesting to discuss something than be in total agreement, and sometimes there are no religious people to challenge.

     

  • http://www.atheistrev.com/ vjack

    I think you raised some good points in this article. Disagreement is a good thing; demonizing each other is not. I’ve been writing quite a bit on this and related issues lately in the aftermath of the Freethought Bullies thing. My thinking is starting to come down to the question of whether we can reasonably call ourselves freethinkers if we are unwilling to confront the possibility that some of our opinions may be wrong.

  • Onamission5

    Guilty as charged. Not always my proudest moments.

    I will posit that there are most certainly occasions when scathing sarcasm is useful (fuck you, bishop comes to mind, wink wink), and when a knee-jerk reponse turns out to be quite the accurate assessment of a situation, but imsho it’s also important to try to see the people on the other side of the internets as just that. People. I catch myself sometimes responding in a way that I would not respond were someone sitting across a table from me. Some of that stems from it being difficult to gauge whether or not someone is poe-ing or trolling, or if they are expressing a genuinely held opinion that they are open to change given a solid argument. Some of that stems from not always having a firm grasp of effective counter arguments, but being very frustrated, and thus the snarky default is easier, particularly when it comes to already loaded subjects that one is plain tired of having to explain over and over again, like the nature of elevators, or the right of LGBT people to live unharassed, equal lives. Sometimes my overly snarky reactions embarrass me, and I have to take a step back rather than reflexively doubling down, regardless of the response from others, because I understand that the internet is part of real life, not separate from it. That is supremely difficult to do though.  

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

      I love that comment. Thank you for putting my thoughts into words. I’m not against effective sarcasm. I’m certainly not opposed to arguing with people who you think are wrong. But there’s a way to argue that can make the other side think and a way to just scorch the earth as you do it. I’m advocating for the former, not the latter.

      • Onamission5

        Scorched earth commenting. That is so going in my lexicon.

        I referenced the FU bishop comment you made specifically because to me, it seemed like a clearing of the throat before tackling his claims rather than being the entire argument. Like, okay, here’s the emotional response to that bullshit, and now here’s all the reasons why I said that, at length. I am totally guilty myself of tossing out f-bombs and that’s it, without addressing in detail what my complaints are concerning someone’s pov or why I told them to fuck off. I thought the FU bishop statement and your followup arguments demonstrated how it is possible to have both a visceral, emotional response as well as a rational one.

      • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke, orphan

        “there is a season, turn, turn turn…”

        you’re the FA. i’m not. sometimes i want to scorch some earth. i’m not here to make friends. i have plenty of my own in real life. there are just some internet mofos who need an ass whupping. do i care if i ‘hurt the cause?’ no, because i’m not part of any ’cause.’ i’m an atheist. so are you. that’s all we have in common (which is to say we may have more, but none of that matters in this debate). i can be an outspoken atheist others consider an asshole. this is still a free country. disown me at your meetings and suchlike; my feelings won’t be hurt. but i enjoy taking down the occasional hater, with a chainsaw, as it were. these are just pixels on a screen, and if video games “don’t cause violence” then nothing i type does either. and don’t underestimate emotion. reason is great, everyone should employ it. but history itself is often little more than a series of emotional moments in which some reason was overcome against long odds. we are human, after all. 

        • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

          So you’re not a part of the community you say nothing is hurting. 

          Okay then.

        • Heart

           chicago dyke, orphan: “please. generalize much? i’m pretty radical and one of the things i
          pride myself on is tolerating and accepting anyone’s views so long as
          they are held consistently and with intellectual and ethical honesty”

          chicago dyke, orphan “sometimes i want to scorch some earth. i’m not here to make friends. i
          have plenty of my own in real life. there are just some internet mofos
          who need an ass whupping. do i care if i ‘hurt the cause?’ no, because
          i’m not part of any ’cause.’ i’m an atheist”

          Consistency. Not for radicals.

  • Xeon2000

    Here’s article I enjoyed about arguments:

    http://lesswrong.com/lw/3k/how_to_not_lose_an_argument/

    This brings to mind for me the idea “Don’t be an asshole.”

    You can either demolish your opponent and show everyone how awesome you are, or you can find common ground, understand the other person, and eventually convince them that you are right.

    All too often we like to demolish others and flex our ego on the Internet.

    • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke, orphan

      i guess my point was: be honest. that’s what you’re *always* doing on the internets. it’s sort of the whole point of a “comment system.” 

      • Xeon2000

        Be honest is good, especially if people are honest with themselves. Hehe, I left off a part from “…and eventually convince them that you are right”. I should add “know when to admit you’re wrong”. I know myself that I hate being wrong. People on the Internet rarely expect to hear you say, “you know what? I think you’re right.”

  • Shane Guilkey

    This reminds me of this comic:

  • Shane Guilkey

    Derp!

  • Cheron22

    From the article
     “All that before she ever took any significant actions in her new role.” -talking about Rogers if that isn’t clear from this quote.

    The first thing out of her mouth was that the Republican Party doesn’t hate women, the LGBT or atheist community. That was her introduction, arguably the most significant moment for any new leader, and she LIED to us. Either through ignorance or arrogance it doesn’t much matter, since when called on it she doubled down.  A community that prides itself on basing our views on evidence is right to be concerned and angry that our representative is at best living in a fantasy land about what Republicans say.
     
     
    “Why are some atheists resorting to the very tactics we abhor in our cultural enemies”

    The tactics that I abhor in my cultural enemies do not include sarcasm and mockery. I am not disgusted at Limbugh because he was sarcastic about women’s health issues, I’m disgusted because he just straight out lies about the arguments.  I don’t think Rick Warren is a failure as a human being because he mocks gays, it’s because he provides fuel for kill the gay bill in Ugandan.  The Catholic Church didn’t just critique Galileo nor is it just critiquing the effectiveness of condom or sex-ed. 
    These are the tactics that our (or maybe just my) cultural enemies use, and I am deeply disappointed that you would ascribe these to us.
     
    “But, as you can imagine, many atheists immediately filed Harris under their mental list of bigots without actually disputing any of his claims.”
     “Claims made without evidence can be dismissed without evidence. “ –Hitch

     
    “… we could (in many cases) just write the other person an e-mail or call them to hash out disagreements. But part of being in an Internet-based community is that we air our dirty laundry for the world to see even when it hurts us all in the long run.”

    Two things, first why would we respond in private to public statements?  Second CITATION REQUIRED in regards to hurting us in the long run.  Just this week, on this blog, there is a post about how the SSA is rapidly growing despite its’ lack of funding compared to religious organizations.  Almost every pole comes back with more and more people identifying as non-religious.  After a bitter year of battling on the blog about harassment, almost every new convention now has a policy in place.  When are we going to see all this damage to the atheist community that accommodationists keep talking about?

    • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

       Second CITATION REQUIRED in regards to hurting us in the long run.  Just this week, on this blog, there is a post about how the SSA is rapidly growing despite its’ lack of funding compared to religious organizations.

       

      Well that “long run” part makes it a bit tricky. You can point to student association growth as “proof” that no harm whatsoever is being done, but what happens when people leave school? How involved are they beyond self-identification ten years later? Behavior, and opinions of behavior change rather radically between 22 and 32. I don’t know many people out of college doing keg stands, for example. 

       Almost every pole comes back with more and more people identifying as non-religious. 

       

      That doesn’t mean they’re participating in the community. I know a lot of people who identify as lots of things, but that’s self-identification. Doesn’t mean they go to meetings, give money, read blogs, or particularly care either way about anyone else with a similar identification. 

        After a bitter year of battling on the blog about harassment, almost every new convention now has a policy in place.  When are we going to see all this damage to the atheist community that accommodationists keep talking about?

       

      About ten seconds after the use of convenient dismissive ad-homs like “accommodationists” to ensure you don’t have to listen or even take as possibly valid the opinions of any who disagree with you end.

      • Cheron22

        “Well that
        “long run” part makes it a bit tricky. You can point to student
        association growth as “proof” that no harm whatsoever is being done,
        but what happens when people leave school?”

         

        So
        regarding the long term effects of mean atheists we don’t have any data… I
        guess people should stop making the assertion that it’s all doom and gloom
        unless we all play nice.  If only we had
        stacks of emails claiming shrill and strident Dawkins was a major reason people
        decided to identify as atheists. If only there was some blogging network that
        posts almost daily stories about people converting away from religion. We would
        at least some clues as to what people credit for their turning away from
        religion.

         

        “That
        doesn’t mean they’re participating in the community. I know a lot of people who
        identify as lots of things, but that’s self-identification.”

        Sigh…. I
        guess I have to agree that just because people are leaving organized religion doesn’t
        mean they are part of the atheist community.

         

        “About ten
        seconds after the use of convenient dismissive ad-homs like
        “accommodationists” to ensure you don’t have to listen or even take
        as possibly valid the opinions of any who disagree with you end.”

        It’s not an
        ad-hom to describe De Button, Mooney, etc as accommodationist seeing as they
        have a history of accommodating religion in part by tossing atheists under the bus. I’ll
        cop to using the term as a pejorative but I will defend its accuracy.

        • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

          So regarding the long term effects of mean atheists we don’t have any data… I guess people should stop making the assertion that it’s all doom and gloom
          unless we all play nice.  If only we had stacks of emails claiming shrill and strident Dawkins was a major reason people decided to identify as atheists. If only there was some blogging network that posts almost daily stories about people converting away from religion. We would
          at least some clues as to what people credit for their turning away from religion.

          Oh where to begin, the sky, it’s full of silly.

          So if we don’t have any data on long term effects, it is equally correct to say the assumption that being raging asshole cockmonkeys causes zero harm is unsupported as well. Oddly, you don’t seem to want to consider that implication. Funny, isn’t it. in addition, as even vague experience with large groups will show, and decades of customer input attests, the people who send emails and participate in forums are a small, small percentage of any group. For example, one group I’m intimately familiar with, Mac OS sysadmins. If we were to believe that all, or even most mac sysadmins participate in mailing lists and forums, then we’d have to say there are about 100 Mac OS sysadmins worldwide. 200 if we’re being generous.

          Clearly, that’s idiotic on any level. So the other option is that the number of people who actively participate in forums, comment threads, emailing people are a minority, and a bloody small one. out of all the atheists I personally know, about 10% are active on any form of atheist forum, website, etc. Most of them have zero fucks to give about the “community”. That’s a very small number, and statistically insignificant, but other forms of studies about this kind of thing back me up. So the “stacks” of emails are already biased, because they’re people who actually want to talk about that sort of thing in public.

          In addition, you’re making an assumption: that because someone was moved to be an atheist by someone like Dawkins or PZ, that they therefore agree with everything those folks say, and are going to actively participate in the atheist “community”. There’s little evidence of that.

          Sigh…. I guess I have to agree that just because people are leaving organized religion doesn’t
          mean they are part of the atheist community.

          that’s one of the very few intelligent replies you’ve made, and exactly right. Someone leaving organize religion does not mean they are part of the atheist community or even an atheist. There are rather a lot of christians who left religion a long time ago, but still maintain their faith in the tenants of that religion. Same thing for judaism, islam, and probably every other religion. I left all forms of organized religion decades ago. Doesn’t mean I’m an atheist or anything else. Just means I’m not part of organized religion.

          It’s not an ad-hom to describe De Button, Mooney, etc as accommodationist seeing as they
          have a history of accommodating religion in part by tossing atheists under the bus. I’ll cop to using the term as a pejorative but I will defend its accuracy.

          Thanks for playing the “don’t have a friggin’ clue as to what ad-hominem is”. I’m not saying you calling them names, pejorative or supportive is an ad-hom, because it’s not. The reason I call “accommodationist” an ad-hominem as used by you and others is that you use it as a justification to ignore, belittle, and dismiss everything they say. It’s the “because they’re accommodationists, they’re wrong” that’s the ad-hominem. You should really learn what a term means before you use it. Just saying.

  • Jim

    Hemant, thank you, couldn’t agree with you more. As an
    atheist blog junkie I have been following the issues closely for years. The “eat
    your own kind” death match gives some credence to the term “militant
    atheist” with all the negative connotations. 

     

    Militant:
    aggressively active (as in a
    cause): combative

     

    I sat on the fence for years. As an agnostic with cultural
    affinity towards the religion I was brought up in, my initial reaction to
    devastating criticism was to cover my years. It took many years to completely
    wash away my prejudices and accept the fact. This is not an isolated
    experience. Anyone when confronted with ideas opposing to their closely
    held beliefs does this. Ask anyone from different sides of the political spectrum in
    any country.

     

    The book that really opened my eyes was “The
    Demon-Haunted World”. It never openly criticizes religion. I am sure he
    could have done a great job, with irrefutable arguments, if he wanted to. But
    his “gentlemanly” approach with it’s firm but soothing tones nudging
    you to open your eyes and understand critical thinking did the job in my case (then I entered the slippery
    slope and ended up as an True Atheist™).

     

    I don’t think I would be here if I had started my journey by
    reading some of the popular blogs which does a devastating job of ridiculing
    opponents (yes, PZ, I am looking at you).

     

    Should we ridicule religion & religious? Of course,
    there are different ways of doing it without turning people away. Making fun
    and insulting are not the same. Just watch how different stand up comedians do
    it. No, this is not an unfair comparison. Communication is one of the most
    important factors of success everywhere. If you are satisfied with your captive
    audience who are already *converted*, you risk alienating a large number of
    potential atheists. We end up being the exact stereotypes our opponents blame
    us to be.

     

    Is it wrong to offend people who disagree with you? No, it
    is subjective (side note: Ophelia Benson, who has no qualm offending religious, is complaining about someone offending with an “in your face” t-shirt). . But one should be careful to avoid ad hominem attacks on a
    person’s self worth If your want some success in effectively communicating your
    ideas to change their long-held beliefs & opinions. Destructive arguments never work in a real life situation,
    only helps escalating it. Think about the last time you ended up in agreement with
    someone after they berated you, even though you know they had facts on their
    side. Would you treat people disagree with you the same way at your workplace
    or home?

     

    With no offence to Jerry Coyne, there are many ways to skin
    a cat. But at least we can try not to gruesomely butcher the cat in the
    process.   

     

    • http://twitter.com/butterflyfish_ Heidi McClure

      It takes different approaches for different people. PZ gets letters all the time from people saying he opened their eyes, changed their mind, or set them on a path toward atheism.

      • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

        but that doesn’t mean those people are a majority, or even significant minority of atheists/skeptics. How many is “letters all the time”? Also, of those, how many remain active in the atheist/skeptic community for a year? Two years? five?

        I have no doubt that prominent atheists/skeptics get those emails. But without a context for those numbers, or even numbers at all, there’s no way of putting those emails in perspective.

      • A3Kr0n

         PZ has also written that he gets a lot of hate mail, and about one death threat a week, on average. Usually it’s about the “frackin’ cracker”.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Arthur-Bryne/100002441143047 Arthur Bryne

    My impression is this is due to low-RWA, high-SDO personality types being relatively common among western atheists and especially relatively activist atheists.  (Dr. Bob Altemeyer has a good overview of the work on RWA/SDO up to a couple years ago here.) Skipping other citations until requested…Overall, it seems atheists in general tend to be relatively low-RWA. This makes sense, in that those who tend to follow conventions tend not to leave Christianity in the first place. SDO isn’t particularly correlated to religiosity, so there’s probably a similar fraction among the irreligious as among the religious. It seems plausible (though unproven conjecture) that the low-RWA attitude would make one unlikely to blindly submit to the conventions of their upbringing, while a high-SDO attitude would give one the sense of trust in one’s own judgement (warranted or not) to find and accept different conclusions. It also seems it might fit with the groups from David Kinnaman’s book “You Lost Me”. The not-lost “Sheep” (which Kinnaman doesn’t discuss) would appear to be the double-highs; the “Exiles”, who stay within the church though unhappy would seem to be low-SDO, high-RWAs; the Nomads, who drop the church but not their faith seem plausibly double-lows; and the Prodigals who abandon both natal Church and Faith to blaze their own trail are low-RWA, high-SDO.To the particular issue raised here…. High-RWA tend to worry about threats to social order; thus, the low-RWA atheists aren’t worried about the disruption of new ideas, nor prejudiced against traditionally feared groups. But, high-SDO tend to worry about dominance, with hostility/prejudice to the derogated. That might possibly explain some of the atheist movement’s troubles with racism and sexism; but it might contribute to their attitudes on intelligence versus stupidity, responding to perception of the latter with hostility. Though high-RWA do so more than high-SDO, both have prejudices against dissident groups. Since new ideas present a challenge and a dissent, new voices with new ideas are greeted with argument. The high-SDO fraction would also explain the complaints by the religious about “smug atheist”, “thinking atheism makes them intellectually superior”, uncivil, prideful, arrogant, selfish, et cetera. The religious are almost certainly ignoring the beam in their own collective eyes of the high-RWA high-SDO crowd; however, these stereotypes may have basis in real tendencies.Experimental testing of this high-SDO/low-RWA conjecture would be difficult, however. Hard to get a representative sample big enough to have statistically useful Activist Atheist sub-samples… even with the slightly disproportionate fraction you’d get if you took the usual psychology tactic of sampling college students.

    • brianmacker

      Problem with your pop psych is that atheists get called militant and smug for merely stating things like they are atheists and like puppies.

  • Bubba Tarandfeathered

    Infighting and atheistic sectarian violence equals T.M.I.

    Apatheism. Not T.M.I.

    Apatheism wins.

    But it’s all so Absurd. ;)

  • http://www.summerseale.com/ Summer Seale

    I’ve been watching this with exasperation for the last year starting with a certain incident.

  • Bill Haines

    I think all of us should be more careful of generalities.  Lumping 
    together all religious folk as deluded fundamentalists etc. isn’t helpful and so-called ‘accomodationists’ are right to criticize this, though of course constructively.  That very term ‘accomodationist’ bothers me, it smacks of ‘collaborationist’ and foments divisiveness among us, in my opinion it’s the main reason organizing us is famously like herding cats.  Lumping together all nonreligious folk more outspoken than we are as strident fanatics similarly isn’t helpful and also deserves constructive criticism.  I’ve been guilty of all three of these multiple times, but I do try to tailor the message to the immediate audience while not throwing any group under the bus, and agree with Hemant that all of us on the side of reason should strive for such balance.  

  • http://twitter.com/EllenBethWachs EllenBeth Wachs

    Hemant,  why does this come across as one of those “do as I say and not as I do” scenarios?  Maybe because you just threw Ernest Perce and Tom Flynn under the bus?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

      I didn’t call them names. I pointed out why I didn’t like what they said/did. So what’s the problem?

      • http://twitter.com/EllenBethWachs EllenBeth Wachs

         Try reading your own article, Hemant. Calling people names is  only an aggressively outward way to attack people. You demanded someone’s job. That hardly qualifies as “Taking Care of Our Own”  It sends the message that I or Jane or John Doe will  be next if  we make a wrong move.

        You have a bully pulpit.  Please wield it with more care.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

          It’s AA’s call if he keeps his voluntary position. But as an AA supporter, I dont approve of desecrating holy books for the sole purpose of angering people and I don’t think AA does either. If you have a nicer way of saying that, let’s hear it.

          • http://twitter.com/EllenBethWachs EllenBeth Wachs

             He isn’t doing it for the sole purpose of angering people but that is entirely beside the point.

            You disapprove of desecrating “holy” books?  What?

            • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

              It just doesn’t seem like an effective way to prove his point. I doubt any media will focus on the problems with the Religious Diversity legislation. They’ll just talk about how this atheist hates Muslims. It’s not true, but that’s the storyline.

              • http://twitter.com/EllenBethWachs EllenBeth Wachs

                That may be so but you aren’t addressing the points I am raising-
                1. That you are being critical of Ernest in contradiction of your article
                2. You state you disapprove of desecrating “holy” books which confuses me because as an atheist, I don’t hold these holy and that is precisely Ernest’s message.

                • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

                  let’s remove the “holy” book issue entirely. Let’s say we’re talking about a non-holy, but important thing. The american flag for example.

                  Yes, you have the *right* to desecrate your own copy of the flag, but, you have the responsibility to understand you’re going to piss a LOT of people off with that action, and a further responsibility to accept that your actions may result in them never wishing to speak to you, for any reason, ever again. 

                  Pissing large groups of people off just because you can may make you feel “better” (for various definitions of that), but don’t be surprised when you get a middle finger and a hearty “fuck off” when you try to talk to them, or engage with them for any reason, and in fact, don’t be surprised when they work against any of your aims/actions for the same reason you pissed them off:

                  Just because they can. 

                  Claiming immunity from the consequences of ones actions is rightly deplored when theists do it, yet atheists are astounded when it backfires on them.

                • Bright

                   Perhaps because your points are incorrect?

                  1.) His article doesn’t say atheists should criticise other atheists. Just that they shouldn’t attack each other with scorched earth policies over disagreements.

                  2.) “Because it’s holy to me” is not the only possible reason to oppose desecrating other people’s idols. Use your imagination. Or ask him. Don’t just flounder about advertising your pride in your ignorance of other possible reasons to oppose it; as if that makes it a false dichotomy between the single reason you can think of, and no reason at all.

                • Bright

                  doesn’t say atheists  *shouldn’t criticise

  • A3Kr0n

    Oh wow, I can comment! I’m using a different computer so I need to figure out what’s blocking comments on my computer.
    I just finished reading your article in FI, and thank you for writing it. Sometimes  its hard not to be snarky and critical online but I’m beginning to see it as a negative. Now, I’m trying, and sometimes succeeding in asking myself how I would comment if the person, of people were standing in front of me, and how they might perceive my comment. Another “tool” I try to use is by asking myself “how would I feel if someone said that to me”. Thanks again for you great article!
    -Andy


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