This is a guest post written by Herb Silverman.
For years I’ve been advocating for “big-tent” atheism, which includes agnostics, humanists, secular humanists, freethinkers, and more. It’s a tent where people can choose activities according to their circumstances and comfort levels, a tent where they can follow their passion while respecting and supporting those with a different emphasis. Fortunately, I think the secular movement has mostly stopped arguing about labels and has begun to cooperate on important issues we can all support.
However, we still have our differences. An article in the Guardian, based on a study at the University of Tennessee, described the six types of atheists as: activist (vocal about issues), anti-theist (assertive and outspoken), intellectual (philosophical and scientific), non-theist (apathetic), ritual (enjoy culture and ceremony), and seeker (open to different views). I criticize this categorization here, and am disappointed that the largest category of all was not even mentioned: closeted atheists, the ones most likely to change our culture by finally coming out.
A thoughtful piece in the Huffington Post by Roy Speckhardt, the Executive Director of the American Humanist Association, is entitled “An End to Arrogant Atheism.” Roy has no problem with most forms of atheism, but thinks arrogant atheism hinders our ability to build alliances. While I agree with Roy’s point that arrogance and humorless ridicule can be counter-productive in reaching out to others, I considered it worth pointing out that the fundamentalist worldview is far more arrogant than any atheist worldview.
Fundamentalist worldview: I know God created the entire universe just for the benefit of humans. He watches me constantly and cares about everything I say and do. I know how He wants me and everyone else to behave and believe. He is perfect and just, which is why we face an eternity of either bliss or torture, depending on whether or not we believe in Him.
Atheist worldview: We’re the product of millions of years of evolution. Most species are extinct, as humans will eventually be. I hope to make a positive difference because it’s the right thing to do, not because of future rewards or punishments in an afterlife. When I don’t know something, I say, “I don’t know.”
My atheist tent is usually not big enough to include religious fundamentalists, but I’ll offer eight examples of such agreement:
- A sermon about positive atheism that I once gave at a Unitarian Universalist Church was well received — despite my opening with, “I have more in common with Christian fundamentalists than with you people. Why? Because Universalists say that everybody goes to heaven, Christian fundamentalists say that very few go to heaven, and I say that nobody goes to heaven.”
- Jerry Falwell said that God doesn’t answer the prayers of a Jew. I agree with Jerry Falwell, though for very different reasons.
- Westboro Baptist Church is best known for its God Hates Fags website and for picketing at soldiers’ funerals. Despite what many Christians say, I agree with the members of Westboro Baptist when they claim to be true Christians. They justify their actions by quoting scripture and denounce anyone who believes differently. All Christians pick and choose which parts of the Bible to emphasize, and Westboro is no different. In fact, just about all Christians claim that some other Christians are not “true” Christians. But the Crusaders were “true” Christians, as were those who murdered abortion doctors, as were most Nazis. (Note: I certainly don’t believe any of these positions represent mainstream Christianity today.)
- I agree with Matthew 7:16: “By your fruits you shall know them.” See above.
- I agree with John 8:32: “The truth will set you free,” which it did when I became an atheist.
- I agree with fundamentalists who do not believe in evolution. I do accept the overwhelming scientific evidence that species have evolved over time. Evolution is no more a belief than is gravity, with evidence for evolution stronger than for gravity.
- I agree with retired Lt. Gen. William Boykin, a born-again Christian Fundamentalist, who said during the Iraq War that Muslims worship an idol, not a real god, and that Islam is a false religion. In fact, I agree with anyone who calls any religion false.
- Finally, I believe in the Immaculate Conception. For those who don’t know, it refers to Mary’s mom (Anne) who conceived Mary immaculately, meaning without the taint of “original sin.” This is serious dogma in the Catholic Church. I strongly believe. I also believe that I was conceived without the taint of original sin. And so were you!
Your homework assignment is to create more examples. (Sorry. I can’t seem to get rid of my math professor mentality.)
Herb Silverman is founder and President Emeritus of the Secular Coalition for America, author of Candidate Without a Prayer: An Autobiography of a Jewish Atheist in the Bible Belt, and Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Mathematics at the College of Charleston.
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