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.