Fighting for Peace?

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This post is a part of the Humanist Community at Harvard’s 2012 Blogathon, a 12 hour blogging marathon by Chris Stedman and Chelsea Link to support HCH’s end-of-the-year fundraiser. Chelsea and Chris are both publishing one new post per hour, for twelve hours straight, and none of the posts have been written or drafted in advance. For more blogathon posts, click here. If you enjoyed this post or any of the others, please consider consider chipping in to support our work.

I have to admit that I find this promise from American Atheists’ fundraising page less than comforting:

We are also continuing our work of getting Atheists out of the closet and building acceptance. From exciting billboards to various local protests and rallies, American Atheists is ready to fight for you!

It’s difficult to talk to my mother about my beliefs or my job. I always have to parry false accusations and tell her what kind of atheist I’mnot before I can even begin telling her about the kind of atheist I am. I pretty much never make it through the first part.

I always start these conversations at a disadvantage because I have to combat all kinds of stereotypes and misconceptions about atheists – stereotypes and misconceptions that are strengthened every day by shenanigans like AA’s “exciting billboards.”

My mother is not stupid. There is a reason why she doesn’t understand my claim that the Humanist Community at Harvard is about building positive values-based communities for the nonreligious, and why she insists that actually atheism in all its forms is about “denigrating other people’s beliefs.” She thinks this because this is the public face of atheism that she encounters most frequently.

I’m not convinced that we’re going to “build acceptance” by “fighting.” I think we’ll do it by articulating our values – most of which will be extremely familiar to believers in a wide variety of religions – and then putting them into action in our real lives.

By all means don’t be shy about your beliefs. Tell your friends and family what you believe, why, and how those beliefs affect your life. And certainly don’t lie or pussyfoot around if somebody asks for your evaluation of a religious claim you disagree with. As I’ve said before, you can be perfectly honest without being aggressive.

But seriously, we are not going to get anywhere by being gratuitously obnoxious. The atheist/Humanist/secular movement needs allies, not enemies. So let’s drop the straw-man schoolyard taunts about myths and fairy tales and imaginary friends, and start making some real friends.

Chelsea Link recently graduated from Harvard University, where she studied History & Science with a focus in the history of medicine. She is the founder and intermittent author of Blogging Biblically, and has contributed to blogs such as the Interfaith Youth Core and Social Action Massachusetts. She has also left a trail of abandoned blog detritus in her wake, ranging from Sewage & Syphilis to The Unelectables. While at school, she served as both the Vice President of Outreach of the Harvard Secular Society and the President of the Harvard College Interfaith Council. Now that she’s graduated, she is a full-time Adult Impersonator, complete with an apartment (in the People’s Republic of Cambridge, Massachusetts) and a job (as the Campus Organizing Fellow at the Humanist Community at Harvard). She tends to kill the mood at parties by unnecessarily reciting Shakespeare.
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