Nathalie is back

Nathalie Rothschild, who doesn’t think you should come out for the Reason Rally, got spanked pretty hard after her last salvo both on various blogs and in the comments of the article itself.  Well, she’s back and traipsing along the same lines.  Credit to her for having the moxy to venture out again.  Demerits for doing an even worse job of it this time around.

It is not altogether surprising that atheists are seen as elitist considering religion-bashing has become a favorite pastime among prominent writers, polemicists and TV show hosts.

Yet Christians, who frequently bash atheists in public and in pew, who make pretensions to knowledge of the cosmos’ origin that has evaded the most perspicacious physicists, who believe that the universe in all its splendor was fashioned with humanity in mind and that the same god who fashioned more stars than grains of sand on the earth takes an individual interest in their lives, they are not elitist.  They are bastions of humility.

Yup, we bash religion.  It’s silly and dangerous.  So what now?  How should we react to a world where people fear losing their jobs because they find the fables of Christianity unconvincing?  Does our open disdain for religion mean we should accept the collective blame when children are kicked out of their homes for being the outlier who doesn’t share the delusions of their parents?

To quote Greta Christina:

Are you really looking at all of this shit I’m talking about, a millennia-old history of abuse and injustice, deceit and willful ignorance — and then on the other hand, looking at a couple of years of atheists being snarky on the Internet — and seeing the two as somehow equivalent? Or worse, seeing the snarky atheists as the greater problem?

If you’re doing that, then with all due respect, you can blow me.

The scenarios above and those like them are the point of the Reason Rally, but Nathalie still doesn’t seem to get that.

Nevertheless, the problem with these surveys is that they are based on a false premise because there is no such thing as an “atheist minority.”

Say…what?

Atheism can broadly be defined as a theory that deities do not exist, but traditionally people who didn’t believe in God(s) did not claim this non-belief as a basis for a common identity, as grounds for forming a group and claiming rights and recognition as a group.

Crazy how times change, isn’t it?  If you discriminated against and, in other ways, made the lives of people who thought vanilla tasted bad miserable, eventually those people will band together to push back.  It is the prejudice that creates the common identity, not the lack of belief in god or the disliking vanilla.  And it doesn’t matter if we’re getting vocal about it for the first time (though this is certainly not the first time in history, but Nathalie still doesn’t seem to know that), the tradition of different, less knowledgeable  times is a poor way to manage the present.

Instead, a belief in human agency — in the ability and necessity for man to shape his own destiny — generally goes hand-in-hand with an understanding that submitting ourselves to deities and their earthly representatives is not a good idea. That doesn’t mean atheists have a common view of what humanity’s purpose should be or how to achieve it.

Sure, atheists have different opinions of how the government should be run.  So do various Christians.  So what?  We do not need universal similarity to care about specific issues, as Nathalie implies.

You can bet your ass that all the people on the National Mall next month will have several things in common.  They will all believe that happiness is a large part (if not the whole) of humanity’s purpose, and they will think that the tactics of social fear pointed at atheists are a poor way to achieve it.  They will also all think the injection of religion into our body of government is societal cyanide.

At most, the “New Atheists” preparing to gather at the Reason Rally can be described as a disgruntled mass of people.

Yes, that’s usually why people complain.  Just like those disgruntled negroes and women of the 20th century.

Their motivation for forging a shared identity around non-religiosity cannot be fully grasped without considering the draw of identity politics, which is immense today.

Yes, we identify as atheists and think it sucks that atheists get mistreated.  I jumped on Nathalie before for motive-guessing, as though she could reach into our heads and produce our truer, concealed motivations.  I know she read my post (she links it in hers), but she doesn’t respond to any of the charges I laid down and apparently still thinks this is an intellectually honest way of going about making a point.  More demerits.

But this modern form of identity politics is not empowering because it is based on self-victimisation and involves pleading for your victim status to be recognised.

This is perhaps one of the most callous and idiotic things I’ve ever read.  I used to think Nathalie was simply wrong, but now I realize the degree to which she can lack compassion.

How else to fix a situation where a certain group of people are made victims?  What would Nathalie say to the LGBT people in Minnesota who have watched a harrowing number of teens commit suicide in the last year due to community-sanctioned bullying?  Stop the self-victimization?  Stop pleading for your victim status to be recognized?

Minorities lack the social power to acquire protection and so we must appeal to the majority for it.  We have not made ourselves the victims, but we are the victims of discrimination and the myriad of ways it manifests itself.  To say that it is not empowering to ask others to empathize, to say that we have made ourselves the victims as though the cruelty of the societal rubric were somehow blameless is the zenith of unfeeling privilege on Natalie’s part.  That people like Rothschild can say such things without blinking is what necessitates our gathering and pushing back.

Nathalie is a perfect example of the problem we are trying to fix.  When confronted with a minority that is being mistreated it is the people who ask why they’re whining who have been the villains throughout history.  Nathalie, it is not the minority who should be ashamed of being victims.  No, in a just world the shame would reside with people like you who, rather than dig deep into your husk for a mote of sympathy, would rather absolve every parent who cuts off their skeptical child and bars them from speaking to their siblings.  The problem is people like you, Nathalie, who hears of atheists losing their jobs not for lack of competence, but for lack of Christianity, and blames the non-believer instead of the employer.  You should be ashamed when the government which represents all Americans caters to the Christian majority in the form of exclusively religious legislation and you find the temerity to blame us uppity atheists for making noise about it.  It would weigh on an ordinarily compassionate conscience to suggest that because we think religion is wrong (and dangerous) and have no qualms in saying so, that we deserve any of these things and have brought them on ourselves – or that we should stay in the closet, or sit down and shut up.  But you, Nathalie, manage it with a comfortable, coldly detached ease.

People like you, Nathalie, are the ones who make it essential that we organize.  It should come as no surprise to anybody that you think it’s a bad idea.

When New Atheists compare themselves to black civil-rights activists and to gay-rights activists (that’s what all the talk of “coming out” is about), this is a way of showing that they are oppressed and shunned and that their “struggle” is unquestionably a morally correct one.

Yeah, we don’t think those who inflict suffering on us for being atheists are morally correct.  You caught us.

Well, there are undoubtedly true and very unfortunate cases of atheist kids being bullied in school or adults being nervous of going against the grain of the religious communities they live in. Luckily, though, people who don’t believe in God are not facing the repression and discrimination in America today that blacks once did.

Yup, atheists no longer face the anal pear or immediate death for questioning the church.  Those times are past.  So why would we complain now when, even though we’re discriminated against, we still get to live?

And hell, in some countries you can get legally murdered for being gay, so what’s their gripe here in the States, right?

Well Nathalie, just because someone has it worse does not mean that what is happening to us is acceptable.  How could that fact be more obvious?  And what’s more, Nathalie has already had this pointed out to her.

Atheists are not denied the right to vote, receive education, work or use public transport. They are not subjected to state violence. The Reason Rally participants do not have to fear the police showing up with batons, attack dogs and water cannons, as did happen when black people gathered to demand their rights in the 1950s and ’60s. In short, New Atheists are no heirs of Martin Luther King, and the Reason Rally bears no resemblance to the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. It seems pretty obvious.

In this case it is because atheists can be invisible, unlike blacks.  If every atheist had extraneous identifying characteristics you can bet there would be attempts (likely successful ones) to keep our rights suspended on account of it.

As it stands, that fear is only good enough to keep atheists in the closet using their invisibility to shield them against reprisal.  Nathalie seems content that atheists can hide their nature to escape the consequences and wonders what more we could want.  She doesn’t seem to get that our issue is that consequences exist for something so innocuous as being too reasonable to accept someone rose from the dead 2,000 years ago.

Of course nobody should be mistreated or discriminated against simply because they believe or do not believe in certain ideas — whether those are religious, atheist or political ones.

They say the truth always comes after the “but”…

But if you can’t identify with people around you, if they won’t accept you for who you are, then ditch them. It’s not always easy, but nobody is stopping you. That’s what human agency is about: taking control of your own life. The great thing about the U.S. is that there is room for diverse lifestyles and beliefs — and no institutional oppression of atheists.

Nathalie has a very strange idea of taking control.  You realize that it’s not the atheists holding onto that privilege, right?  Asking us to be the ones to release what we’re not holding onto is a very poor suggestion.

How, exactly, are we to ditch the Christian privilege in this nation and all of its unpleasant results?  Shall we all move out of the country and let creationism be taught?  Shall we just lay down and let Catholic organizations deprive women of birth control?  Nathalie’s idea of taking control seems entirely euphemistic for giving up what control we have.

No.  Taking control is not saying “they don’t like us, oh well!”  It’s fighting back.  It’s organizing.  It’s saying you may not like us but god damn it you are going to treat us as equals.

As long as people like Nathalie Rothschild exist, atheist activism will be necessary – and so will the times when we rally to show that our numbers are formidable.

I’ll be at the Reason Rally.  I’ll be there to tell congress that we are a significant portion of their electorate.  I’ll be there to denounce prejudice against non-believers as immoral.  And, admittedly, there is a smaller part of me beneath the excitement and moral satisfaction of standing up for non-believers that will relish pissing off the Nathalie Rothschilds of the world.

About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.


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