We are atheism!

I am a quote junkie, and one of my all-time favorites is that it is better to be hated for who you are than loved for who you aren’t.  Not only is it damn true, but I feel it defines what it most often means to come out of the closet as an atheist.  It is an enormous pity that normal, good people must be faced with those two options.

It always comes up in the Q&A of a talk: what is the best piece of activism someone can do for the atheist cause?  I’ve said it repeatedly.  I said it in Des Moines at the AA convention in April where it was pretty much all I said:  come out of the closet.

Yes, it’s tough.  Yes, there are often social penalties and that sucks.

Come out of the closet.

Yes, we have all the best arguments.  Yes, our position is the most reasonable.  But in order to alter the public atmosphere such that atheists stop being demonized, Americans must begin to realize that we are not some coven of malicious wrong-doers hiding away in the shadows, but that instead we are their neighbors and their co-workers.  They must be forced to acknowledge that we are their friends.  They must accept that we are their sons and their daughters.  They must accept that we are their parents.

In short: they must, absolutely must, be faced with the fact that they like us.  This movement is gifted with some very powerful speakers, some amazingly eloquent writers, and the most effective organizers.  However, their combined efforts and perspicacity cannot even approach the efficacy of atheists being honest to those close to them about who they are.  In this, you have an ability to effect change in the world that exceeds my own or that of Richard Dawkins.

There are people in the world like Chris Steadman Stedman who think the way to get religious people to like us is to watch the intellectual poison in others and do nothing (or even nurture it).  They are wrong.  The religious people already like us – they already admire and respect us – they just don’t know who we are.

People willing to come out of the closet (and an environment that makes coming out endurable) has been a huge part of why the gay rights movement has come so far.

And so it must be with us.  There is a new project launching today being backed by all the biggest names in the movement.  It is run by Adam Brown (the founder of Atheism Resource) and his wife, Amanda.  That project is We Are Atheism, and I am literally unable to give it more emphatic support.

And you can participate: all you must do is record a video.  All you have to do is tell your story to others so they see that coming out is a relief, it’s wonderful, and that there is a community waiting on them that will love them as they truly are, rather than the image they must concoct to avoid being hassled or discriminated against.  If you want to know how you can change the world, the answer is simple: speak up.  I truly believe it’s the single most important thing you can do for this movement.

That’s why I did it.  It’s why Jen McCreight, Hemant Mehta, and Greta Christina have done it.  It’s why PZ Myers, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and a host of others have committed to telling their stories.  It is why you should do it.  If the chronicle of your ascent to atheism is particularly sad, then this may be unimaginably difficult.  Sadly, it is your story with which so many secret atheists will be able to empathize, and so it is your story for which there is the greatest need.

Religion does not win by having good arguments – it wins by empty emotional appeals, intimidation/idealogical bullying, and community.  For people to leave religion, there must be a community there to replace that of their religion (or to exceed it).  Those unchaining themselves from religion must know that a community awaits them that will accept them, care for them, love them, and, most importantly, understand in the way our religious institutions cannot.  We have the opportunity to create that landscape in our hands.  If we care, or wish to construct the environment in which we wish we lived, I would argue that it is nothing short of our obligation to do so.

  • http://www.willisweb.com Jon Willis

    I absolutely have to do this now! Thanks for pointing it out. You rock.

  • http://coffeelovingskeptic.com Tony Ryan – Coffee Loving Skeptic

    Nice work fella.
    I’m also helping (or at least trying to) get as much awareness of the WeAreAtheism site as possible: (http://coffeelovingskeptic.com/?p=681) but it’s hard to strike a balance between not spreading the word and ‘spamming’ everyone.
    Any tips?

  • JT Eberhard

    Tony,

    I always say err on the side of excess, but that’s just me (and also why I was tubby for a number of years :P)

    JT

  • Steven Groesbeck

    It was a friend that opened my eyes to Atheism. It was Dawkins, Hitchens, deGrasse Tyson, Feynman, and many others that got me excited to be an Atheist. I at times have pushed my Atheism into the world around me but only for brief spells. Just like many others, I have lost friends and family over my Atheism. It makes it hard to stay true to myself. I think I have found an answer to help me through that part now. I had someone walk me into Atheism and others to show me the beauty of it. Here I am now. One foot still in that closet and someone with a solid voice of reason telling me to come on out. I can’t tell the future or even my own, but I am pretty sure that closet will be empty and demolished in the new future. After that, I will be able to look back at the friend that opened the door, the many that showed me the beauty and the one that inspired me to get the F*@k out of the closet. Thank you JT, for not just saying I should get out, but for explaining the harm in not doing so.

  • http://www.weareatheism.com/ Conrad

    “There are people in the world like Chris Steadman (sic) who think the way to get religious people to like us is to watch the intellectual poison in others and do nothing (or even nurture it). They are wrong. The religious people already like us – they already admire and respect us – they just don’t know who we are.”

    What is this dude? How is this relevant? You may vehemently disagree with interfaith work, but in the context of this blog I would argue Chris’ work is exposing religious people to atheists who are “out”, exactly what you propose.

    It’s a great blog post, but this is an unnecessary snipe at a straw man version of interfaith, it doesn’t add to your message, it only serves to create further division in our still small movement.

    NOW EVERYONE GO TO WE ARE ATHEISM AND MAKE THIS THING SKYROCKET!! :D :D :D

  • http://majesty-of-being.blogspot.com/ Serah Blain

    First, I’d like to second Conrad’s “EVERYONE GO TO WE ARE ATHEISM AND MAKE THIS THING SKYROCKET!!” And then I’d like to express frustration that you and I so fundamentally disagree on the work Chris Stedman does. (Is there an emoticon for that? Like an emoticon of a huge bicep crushing a hipster emoticon and an emoticon on rollerskates looking on helplessly)?

    I’ve done a lot of interfaith work (or transfaith work or I-don’t-give-a-shit-what-weird-thing-you-believe-let’s-just-save-some-lives-and-talk-about-it-afterward work or whatever) on behalf of the the LGBT community in my town, and it so clearly has done exactly what you are advocating here: exposes religious people to atheists and makes them realize that they like us. I don’t “watch the intellectual poison in others and do nothing about it”; I build the relationships, trust and mutual respect that are invaluable in opening religious people to the idea that my perspective is one that is valid and compelling. Relationships are a key way to change minds–and interfaith work is a key way to build relationships…and Chris is a key advocate for this approach. It’s not the only approach, but I think it’s unfair to characterize it as doing nothing.

    It particularly frustrates me because I see both you and Chris as extremely effective leaders in our movement taking different avenues that are both so necessary. And we can do much more as a diverse but cohesive movement than as a fragmented collection of warring factions.

    To everything else you wrote here: YES! YES! YES! Keep up the good work, JT. I know I say it all the time, but you’re such an asset to our movement. And quite a likable guy as well;-)

  • JT Eberhard

    Conrad,

    “What is this dude? How is this relevant?”

    Glad you asked!

    This is a rebuttal to a possible retort (I like nipping those in the bud ahead of time if I can). I was taking the response of “Well aren’t you making atheists not like us???” and slapping it down ahead of time.

    As for Interfaith, I’m happy Stedman is doing it. I really am. But let’s not think for a moment that Chris Stedman is Interfaith. I can criticize him without going after Interfaith, which is precisely what I did.

    I’m tickled there are diplomats out there…which is why I didn’t say a damn word about Interfaith in the post (even though I have personal reservations about the effectiveness of Interfaith). The issue is that I wish Chris would spend more time doing Interfaith and less time tossing around empty accusations that activists like me are detrimental to the atheist cause. That is what that line in my post was meant to address, hence the absence of any reference to Interfaith in it. I have repeatedly said we need all types of activists in this movement and I don’t really see how what I wrote could be viewed as diametric to that position.

    I think religion must be fiercely criticized. Chris doesn’t. Never was this more apparent than at SSA 2010 when I called him on it during the panel Q&A (to applause, if you’ll recall). When asked when was the time to criticize religion, Chris tried to skirt the issue by saying he just wanted to show religious people we were nice, even though I kept pressing him on when we should criticize religion. Since I see irrational ideas as something to be actively purged from society, this leaves about as much room for compromise between the two of us as a coin toss (on that front).

    So, short story (too late, I know) is that I didn’t want people (like Stedman) taking the idea that religious people must like us and either saying or implying that not criticizing religion (or other shitty ideas) was the only way (or even the best way) to go about it.

    JT

  • http://episcopalianplanetearth.blogspot.com/ Mario

    “Religion does not win by having good arguments – it wins by empty emotional appeals, intimidation/idealogical bullying, and community.

    My dear JT,

    You must be careful with blanket statements like those. I know many religious people that use religion in that way. I also know many religious people that never use religion that way. In the end our reason and the defense of reason is important but I try to do the following: we must not let our prejudices cloud our judgment and reasoning. I think as human beings we have to try.

    Once again, thank you for the graciousness you have showed me but also at the conference. You made a theist feel welcome :)

  • Conrad

    You’re absolutely right you didn’t mention interfaith, but in assumimg you meant to I was trying to give the benefit of the doubt, since ideas don`t deserve respect and a flaming straw man like that shows none. «Nurturing intellectual poisen?» that doesn’t nip a coumter argument in the bud it polarizes those who agree with you and incenses those that dont

    Why should either of you need to comprimise? If we are actually committed to the multiple approaches concept then whether he’s willing to criticize religion matters about as much as whether you’re willing to do interfaith.

    Honestly whats motivating me to speak up on this is that it’s distracting from your ideas. your writing is sharp, concise and convincing, but complaining that someone hurls accusations about hurting the movement while doing the practictly exact same thing to them smacks of vendetta and causes me to want to speak up to request some high road civility. i shouldnt be spending time on this, when i could be enjoying your other points, but instead I’m distracted by the question of whether its reasonable to think this ongoing sniping is doing more good than harm.

    I’ll leave my comments at that good sir, so as to minimize the distraction I myself am creatimg but I hope you and others join me in calling for firebrands and diplomats to both set an example in passionately advocating for their approach without demonizing the other side.


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