Why I’m Not Quitting the Online Atheism Community

Martin S. Pribble, a long-time atheist blogger, says he’s calling it quits and “no longer want[s] to be part of the online atheist ‘community’.”

Well, shit. What did we do now? And what does it even mean to you say you’re leaving us?

What this means is that I will no longer be dragged into debates with theists who make a ludicrous claim, then base their evidence on the very book from which their ludicrous claim originates. There is no point in it…

… It doesn’t mean I will be leaving the social networks, or even changing the style of my tweets and Facebook posts. I’ve been moving in this direction for some time now, and I think I’ve come to a point where I am only injuring myself if I were to continue engaging on a level of theistic debating

So… you’re gonna ignore the trolls?

That’s… nice. Even though most of us figured that out a long time ago. If you want to have serious debates about religion, YouTube and blog comment threads aren’t the best places to have them. It’s an exercise in futility.

That doesn’t mean it’s completely useless, though. Most people I know became atheists because someone else convinced them to give up their faith. Maybe an author or a close friend or, yes, even a stranger online. (Like just about all public atheists online, I’ve received my share of emails from people who tell me reading this site helped them let go of their belief in God.)

Pribble concludes his piece this way:

I hope none of this comes as a shock to any of you. Please don’t see this as a defeatist position, because it’s not. It’s simply an acknowledgement of something that has been bugging me for some time. To those who know me, my frustration with “online atheism” has been no secret. Also, none of this is aimed at any particular people. In fact, I think we still need those who will relentlessly chase down believers for their ludicrous beliefs. The only difference is, I will not be the one doing it.

That’s disappointing, I suppose, until you realize there’s no shortage of people who are happy to interact with theists in a comment thread or elsewhere. Even if you think it’s pointless, they don’t. And I’m glad they don’t because it’s important that someone engages the irrationalists.

But what does that have to do with the “online atheist community”? Pribble’s beef is something that anyone who blogs about a controversial topic online has to deal with. It’s not unique to our community at all.

Furthermore, the online atheist community is hard to define because it’s completely fractured. Pribble has a problem with activists who “troll Facebook and Twitter for theists and tell them why they are wrong” but that hardly describes most of us.

There are atheist activists who debate theists in person, make videos or write articles debunking bad religious arguments (without the need for a formal debate with specific people), do charity work and showcase the positive side of a non-religious life, highlight what atheists are doing across the world, offer opinions from a non-religious perspective, create in-person communities for the non-religious, etc. (And you can do all of those things with or without snark.)

If the essay remained on his site, maybe this argument would’ve just disappeared. But yesterday, Slate republished a version of it (maybe they’re competing with Salon to see which publication can trash atheists more):

Atheists and nonbelievers make up such a small part of the world’s population that we can never hope to change the world by ourselves — certainly not, if our primary weapon is yelling at people we don’t agree with. Most theists in the world are not completely delusional. Many see their faith as being primarily about an afterlife and dismiss the more ridiculous stories — about the apocalypse, for instance — as parables used to illustrate a point. The problem is, the people we hear most from are not the rational ones. It’s the fanatics with the largest and loudest voices.

So… Pribble is basically saying he’s had it with the jerks who treat theists like crap. Well, guess what? So have a lot of us.

Don’t like making fun of religious people? Great. Then don’t. Problem solved.

Here’s a better solution: Remain in the community (which he appears to be doing, anyway) and be the type of activist you wish to see. Be a model for future bloggers instead of throwing the rest of us under a bus.

I’m proud to be part of this community — whatever that means — even if my tactics are different from someone else’s. This community has changed a lot of minds, empowered a lot of once-closeted atheists. and influenced a lot of people whether they know it or not. You don’t have to seek out theists to destroy. Just lay out your case for why people should come to your side of any issue and the magic will happen.

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.

  • Jan Kafka
  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

    not even gonna invest a lot of time in this post. skimmed a couple of sentences. btdt, gosh i’ve read these sorts of screeds before. on just about every blog ever, in this short history of many “i write a blog! i’m important!”posts.

    wanna go? there’s the door. and that’s the bitter truth, for folks who feel the need to write these diatribes it becomes really simple.

    very few care, or remember you, years later, when you never come back. comments move on! and the world, as well. it still doesn’t end. even without your scintillating daily contribution to Why Marvel is Better Than DC, @ ForeverDood.com forums, or whatever.

    i’m an adult. i sort of understand what, if any, comments “matter.”. but like this person, i still like to be silly, tho. no harm in that, even online. ;-)

  • Terry Firma

    I like this post. I don’t like that Prattle Pribble got the attention he appears to crave over nothing of substance. He’s not “leaving the atheist community.” He has wisely chosen to no longer do battle with rude commenters and unpleasant trolls. He’ll keep writing and trying to engage/inform/entertain people. He hasn’t changed his world view. Big whoop.

  • Terry Firma

    There is no atheist “community.” Or a black “community.” Or a Chinese “community.” Or a Christian “community.” So it’s not possible to find fault (or to agree) with any of them. Groups of people encompassing millions of members are too amorphous to be classified under some implied notion of groupthink.

    To circle back to your apparent beef with online atheists, what community are you speaking of? What site? The folks who hang out at Pharyngula express themselves rather differently than the writers and commenters at Friendly Atheist. I just unsubscribed from ‘Working Class Atheists’ on Facebook because their complete lack of nuance began to get on my nerves. Reddit Atheism is also marred by lots of juvenile BS, unfortunately. By contrast, I often find Sam Harris’s site (and a few others) pretty philosophical and enlightening.

    Atheists are just as varied in how they think and discuss as any other group that could jointly fill all the football stadiums in the U.S. No use in tarring everyone with the same brush.

  • $925105

    Christian trolls were the most fun. When I ran a website I’d always give a reply of thanks to the haters and post it online for everyone to see. It always made the crews day to get another letter of hate.

  • ZenDruid

    What this means is that I will no longer be dragged into debates with theists who make a ludicrous claim, then base their evidence on the very book from which their ludicrous claim originates. There is no point in it…

    They will continue to make their ludicrous claims, and we will continue to refute them. The alternative to that is censorship, which game Homey Don’t Play.
    The minds of the cheap storytellers and the cheap spin doctors are forever stapled to cheap bronze age gabble. I can only pity them for their patent fear of broader understanding, and deride them for their intransigent unwillingness to upgrade their brains.

  • Madison Blane

    “When the quality of your own life is being negatively affected by dealing with so much impenetrable ignorance on a daily basis, the only thing to do is step away for the sake of your sanity and faith in the human race.”
    While I understand your point – and hey, if it’s bad for you,by all means, step away – It really isn’t fair to say that arguing with theists is pointless. I was devoutly religious. I am fully Atheist today. That process took ten years, countless arguments, and numerous people. Every one of them was worth it and every day I am thankful! I do this because I feel I should pay it forward…even if I NEVER see the results (because there are multitudes of people who read and never comment or argue). This kind of activism isn’t for everyone, and yes, it can be mentally exhausting, but people DO change and they DO break free and that, to me, is worth my time and effort!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=141304249 Sarah Jones

    Sam Harris, philosophical?? That’s a new one. New Atheism has completely exhausted my patience. I’m done with it. If I’d wanted to spend my time belittling people for their perspectives on the existence of God, I’d have stayed a Christian fundamentalist. And there is a thriving streak of this mentality in online atheism. I don’t think it’s helpful to portray it as a fringe attitude–from what I’ve seen, it’s closer to mainstream.

  • Terry Firma

    Tired of atheist communities online, yet here you are (and your posts stretch back months). Why?

  • Terry Firma

    One of the imaginary “questions” in his piece is “Your voice is needed, don’t stop doing this!” That doesn’t reek of self-importance at all!

  • momtarkle

    Good points, “3″. Reading and interacting with atheist and theist blogs did not instigate my atheistic beliefs, but it certainly has reinforced and deepened them.

    To continue those processes, I have become involved in my “Bible Studies” phase. (You don’t have to care.) I search for anything I can find on “atheism”, “creation”, “evolution”, “Dawkins”, “Hitchens”, “Tyson”, “Sagan”, and whatever else I can find that defends or debunks religion. Most of what I watch is broadcast on religious channels, but I have found some good stuff on history and science channels. It’s very uplifting.

    Hell, I may even go back to reading the bible. They say that the NWT version is pretty good. Anybody read it?

  • Moose McNuggets

    Regarding your comment about many people being convinced to become atheists by another atheist:

    While I certainly encountered plenty of atheist writings along the way, I can’t say any one event or person pushed me in this direction. I can’t even pinpoint the moment when I became an atheist. It just sort of happened by default. As I traveled through life I just started rejecting more and more of what I heard based on the notion that without any proof to back it up, I wasn’t going to swallow anything, much less turn around and try to convince someone else it was true. At some point belief without evidence just struck me as the most absurd path one could travel.

    Leaving the Christianity that I’d been raised in was a painful experience, accompanied by a lot of fear. This event occurred at a young age (19) and was traumatic at the time. It was also followed by a lengthy period of dabbling in Eastern religious thought, actions that had more to do with trying to still my fears than with actually believing there was a truth there that couldn’t be found in Christianity. So eventually I abandoned that pursuit as well.

    The fear subsided as time went on, while travel, reading, involvement with life itself…all of that and more just gradually brought me to a level of comfort in my own skin. I also became an evidence-based thinker, and this naturally lent itself to atheism. It was also in this decade of my life that I came to regard it that since I didn’t exist prior to birth, it was silly to think that some sort of afterlife awaited me beyond the grave. Once I realized that not existing prior to birth was in no way frightening, than nonexistence after death wasn’t scary either. So at some point in my thirties I settled on calling myself an atheist for lack of a better term. It wasn’t something special, it just made sense.

    Looking back on it, it seems like a very natural progression. I’m glad it happened, I can’t imagine being a happy person if I was still trying to hold on to the beliefs I was raised in. I’d have to shut my brain down, and this wasn’t something I was willing to do.

    I’d be curious to hear from others who became atheists more or less on the strength of their own thought processes and experiences rather than from being converted, so to speak. I suspect there’s quite a few of us out here.

  • cryofly

    Well I have long stopped arguing in the local circles. But I always let them know that I am an atheist and that atheism grows as we grow wiser. But I do not argue with zealots or even those who are in love with the god (nice loving, caring, and god-fearing gentiles, many of whom are quite close to me). I will die, as I wait for them to die along with their beliefs.

  • TheScienceEnthusiast1130

    lol

  • TheScienceEnthusiast1130

    Did the religious/politically conservative people secretly convince “Martin S. Pribble” to give up “atheism”?

    Hmm…

  • TheScienceEnthusiast1130

    Here is something I have found…http://godisimaginary.com/

  • TheScienceEnthusiast1130

    “Christianity” is full of contradictions!!!!

  • TheScienceEnthusiast1130

    Religion = Ignorance

  • http://127.0.0.1 3lemenope

    I can’t say I’m familiar with the NWT; I always suggest Robert Alter’s translations. His primary focus is preserving the rhythm and style of storytelling, and so it sounds natural and narrative. A sample. The preservation of the constant “…And,…” makes it propulsive, and other notes that are often lost in modern translations (for example, the whole, “and, lo,…”, which is usually just dropped as superfluous, he preserves with the modern storytelling command, “and, look,…”). It’s the first translation I’ve felt can be read aloud as a storybook and not sound completely silly or stilted.

  • TheScienceEnthusiast1130

    Many religious people hate technology, because it uses SCIENCE, so the religious people avoid the “Internet”.

    Lol

  • TheScienceEnthusiast1130

    “nihilism”?

    Hmm…

    Under a certain context, “Nihilism” is also a self-contradictory philosophy. That means that even “nihilists” will reject their own philosophy, which is “Nihilism”.

    Lol

  • TheScienceEnthusiast1130

    xd

  • TheScienceEnthusiast1130

  • midnight rambler

    Good for you. Give yourself a pat on the back.

  • TheScienceEnthusiast1130

    Why are you here, you religious/politically conservative person (also known as an ignorant person)…

  • midnight rambler

    I think there’s a big difference between “there is no one who is Youer than You” and “look at me, I’m important!!!”

    And I don’t see anyone calling him “worthless trash”. A nobody? Well, I’d never heard of him, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s a nobody.

  • midnight rambler

    Up late after raiding your parents’ booze stash? Lay off the substances for a few years, they harm the developing brain and you’ll end up staying stupid the rest of your life.

  • TheScienceEnthusiast1130

    Wow, these insults…

    Please stop replying to me.

  • midnight rambler

    Aww, punky booboo can dish it out but can’t take it?

  • TheScienceEnthusiast1130

    Get out.

  • midnight rambler

    LOL. I’m shakin’ in my boots.

    BTW, you know that when you “delete” a comment (like “Immature piece of shit”) it only deletes your name from it and not the comment itself, and by that time I’ve already gotten an email notification saying it’s from you, right?

  • TheScienceEnthusiast1130

    =D

  • TheScienceEnthusiast1130

    xd

  • midnight rambler

    You know, enlisting your fellow Nintendo game enthusiasts like Sorahearts (author of the “burn you” comment below) only makes you look more pathetic. ROTFL.

  • TheScienceEnthusiast1130

    Friendly Atheist,

    Can you ban @mrambler:disqus?

  • TheScienceEnthusiast1130

    STFU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • midnight rambler

    Okay, you are officially hilarious. Signing off for the night.

  • TheScienceEnthusiast1130

    I am being serious here.

  • midnight rambler

    I am being serious here.

    Is this snark? Because given your previous comments, it sure sounds like it. I think we’re in Poe’s Law territory here.

  • TheScienceEnthusiast1130

    @mrambler:disqus

    Please stop.

  • primenumbers

    Always remember the audience -well said.

  • Connie

    I wasn’t “converted either. Too many questions asked of a frustrated priest only led me to further believe there were no answers. I was so young. Only 18 and I wanted answers no one seemed to be able to give. It was like loosing something valuable that I just couldn’t find. It turned out to be my faith. I was so angry! My parents had lied to me again! The first time they lied to me I was 6 years old. They said bad things about Black people. I knew they weren’t telling the truth because my best friend in first grade (I came to understand) was Black. She wasn’t any of the things my parents said. We ended up being friends throughout my first 6 years of school. Kinda of funny though I ended up happily married to an African American! Now I’m an Atheist to boot! My parents shouldn’t have lied. The priest shouldn’t have lied. They could have at least explained that they didn’t know the answers. It would have been better than the lies.

  • Connie

    Go away! The conversation was going quite nicely until you came. Go pray or something.

  • Lando

    Same here – it took little doubts building up over years to finally crack my faith, but I couldn’t be happier.
    Personally, when I comment on an interesting article at a Christian site, I have no intention of converting anyone. So many Christians have this impression that atheists are angry, hateful people, so my goal is to respectfully disagree while being an example of a person who is good without god.

  • dandaman

    “Many see their faith as being primarily about an afterlife and dismiss the more ridiculous stories — about the apocalypse, for instance — as parables used to illustrate a point”. Am I to assume that living forever after your body has decomposed is “rational”? It is all ridiculous, and the fanatics as you call them, gain a sense validity from the “non-fanatics”, as you call them. Not everyone in Nazi Germany was in the SS, or was even a Nazi, they were silent sheep and allowed the rest to happen. I’m not necessarily calling xians Nazis, but the fanatic/not fanatics dichotomy analogy is a good illustration.

  • http://www.atheistrev.com/ vjack

    Excellent post, Hemant. I found it quite odd that someone would seem to equate the atheist community with people who troll theists via social media. I rarely go out of my way to argue with theists, and I still consider myself a part of this community to some degree.

  • dandaman

    “Those of us who don’t think it’s acceptable to deride people for being religious get torn apart by other atheists, too”. It all depends on your definition of “deride”, resorting to insults (even in response to insults) is not a good practice, neither is being an apologist. Aggressive reasoning is needed against aggressive ignorance that IS affecting my life through the political influence they exert in the name of Sauron.

  • dandaman

    You’ve obviously never “listened” to Sam Harris. New Atheism isn’t new, it’s just intelligent and f..ing sick and tired of people in power believing in fairies and pregnant virgins, they have very dangerous toys at their disposal and it is imperative that reason prevails before it is too late. That’s why there is a sense of urgency that you may see as belittling, it is time to WAKE UP.


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