What’s Killing The Atheist Movement?

What’s Killing The Atheist Movement? August 20, 2016

Remember when our friends could be wrong?
I do. Lots of my friends were idiots growing up. Hell, I was that idiot a few times.

But we stuck by each other, we worked through our issues, and we grew together.

Sometimes, years later, we’d look back at things we did and apologize for being assholes. How is that possible? Because we were still there to say I’m sorry.

But why did we stick it out? Because we were all we had. That idiot was our idiot.

And we grew out of those bad ideas together, all at different paces, with patience, love, and understanding for those who were behind in their thought process.

Sad PersonYes, we had fights. And that’s ok. But our fights were private, and were about the issues. Not public horrific Trump-like attacks because of a simple disagreement in method or opinion.

This era of social media is removing the humanity from our interactions, and making our “friends” seem so numerous, that we don’t value each other anymore.

Not only that, it allows us to carry a bullhorn around in our pockets, that can be heard around the world.

So not only can my short burst of anger be immediately felt in 140 characters while I’m in the moment, I can disown you with a click of a button, and still have 4,999 “friends” to like the pictures of my dog.

So I can welcome any one of you to “fuck off” depending on my mood that day, or over a single comment you’ve made, or because we finally found that 2% difference in our opinions, because you are meaningless.

You’re replaceable. You’re insignificant.

All because we don’t match up 100% of the time.

When our “friends” on Facebook or Twitter make a comment that we find offensive or absurd, we are so quick to disown them and “take a public stand” immediately, that we’re fracturing our movement into a thousand tiny micro groups that will be useless against the larger powers we’re collectively fighting.

Often times, we can’t see the forrest because the trees are in our way.

I’m not saying to excuse all ridiculous behavior. But where’s our Humanism? Where are the private and personal phone calls to work things out? Where’s our love for humanity, even when that humanity is being a douche nozzle?

When someone is being absurd on Facebook, and we dog pile that person, make fun of that person, and create little secret groups to demean that person, that sounds more like church than it does a bunch of skeptics.

On the flip side, when you don’t like someone’s opinion of a certain issue, or think their passionate reactions to issues you don’t see as a big deal are ridiculous, so you decide to attack his or her appearance, disability, weight, or anything else that may be a struggle for them, you’re being a bully, even if you think they were a bully first.

You may justify it that way. But the rest of us still see that as bullying, when you had the power to do something productive.

And that doesn’t lead to progress. It only leads to more fighting, smaller groups, and a more ineffective atheist movement for the greater good.

Why are we so quick to look for signs, to see what side of an issue a person is on so that we know whether or not to publicly disavow him or her? What happened to looking at the humans behind the comments to see what’s fueling the rage, or misinformation?

You ask me about #BlackLivesMatter and listen with trembles for me to say anything positive about a police officer I once knew so you can scream “Racist!”

Or you ask me if I think “BlueLivesMatter, and as I start to say “well, of course, but that’s misunderstanding the point… so you can interrupt by screaming “You hate cops!” and disown me, and then blog about me for weeks, instead of taking the whole of my character into consideration.

We’re becoming the “fuck off” generation, and it’s embarrassing.

Yes, some people cross the line. But there are always deeper reasons fueling whatever you see on the surface.

If after investigating the issue, talking with each other, and trying to get to the bottom of it like adults, you’re unable to reconcile, then parting ways is perfectly fine.

But this instant “agree with me or fuck off” mentality that happens within 6 minutes of a controversial Facebook post, is assanine.

As atheists, we often go from being mistreated, ostracized, and misunderstood by our friends, families, and co-workers, to finding a family within the secular community. But then, that leads to us living in a bubble of agreement; liking, sharing, commenting on the same types of posts.

But rarely do we want to live in an echo-chamber of ideas, preaching to each other’s choirs. So what naturally happens, is we tend to look for reasons why we aren’t the same person. We seek reasons to disagree. It’s normal.

We look for what sets us apart. But then we hyper-focus on that, and it becomes the breaking point for otherwise beautiful relationships that could strengthen our movement.

I recently saw two very intelligent women, who I happen to know are caring and compassionate individuals, completely disown each other within an hour of a Facebook post.

If these two were video game characters, and you were to match up their “attributes,” they’d be 98% identical and one hell of a team to be reckoned with, if they ever joined in any fight on the same team. We’re lucky to have both of them in our community.

Atheist, successful, smart, independent, liberal, pro-marriage equality, pro-choice, educated with formal degrees, profressional careers, understanding of healthcare, love for politics, Humanists, desire for progress, rational, skeptical, the list goes on.

It describes them both.

In any other circumstance, these two would be an amazing pair of humans.

But one thing separated them: The treatment of pregnant women on public transportation.

The original post was a bit aggressive and threw some ambiguous jabs about entitlements, and the other showed up to defend the women she felt was being attacked by the post.

Ironically, both women showed signs of understanding each other’s points, but those were quickly buried with insults and jabs.

Within minutes, phrases like “holier than thou” and “sociopath” were being tossed around like a beachball.

Now, both are blocked and unfriended. Both are hurt. Both were misunderstood. Both pretend they don’t give a shit.

So we took that 98% match up that was in total agreement, unified against the monster we’re all fighting, known as the socially conservative, anti-woman, anti-choice, Christian Right; and broke yet another bond over this one disagreement and a handful of miscommunicated points and insluts.

And what about those of us who are connected to both of them and respect both of them? We can read their posts and probably see points made on both sides, and mistakes made on both sides.

I’m willing to bet, if no egos were involved, and both had it to do over again, both would take a different approach. But we don’t get to turn back the hands of time. The damage is done.

And now, aren’t those of us in the middle forced to “pick a side?” I thought we left that in high school.

In order for our secular community to remain a community, we’ve got to stop intentionally searching for things we disagree on, to hyper-focus on those, and instead overlook some of our friends’ mistakes, or opinions we find absurd.

There are bigger fish to fry.

You being wrong on abortion in my opinion, doesn’t mean you hate women, and that I need to publicly disown you. Nor does it mean when I call you out, that I deserve an attack on my weight or appearance.

Was Ellen’s tweet of her riding Usain Bolt’s back racist? I don’t think she meant it that way. But I do see how people can see it as racist, who have a more in-depth knowledge of slaves literally being ridden by whites 200 years ago. I just disagree with that viewpoint.

I get it. But the fact that Usain retweeted it, and we know Ellen’s character isn’t like that, should all be considered into our decision and public reactions about how we view it.

However, when people standup against it, they should be heard without insults.

It’s okay if you think it was racist. And it’s okay if I didn’t. But guess what…

You thinking it’s racist doesn’t “make you an idiot” and me thinking it was innocent doesn’t mean I’m “broken, racist, or need to do any self-reflection.”

These are all hyperbolic inflammatory statements of false dichotomies that lead to unnecessary division. We just disagree on this one thing. And it’s okay.

Let’s grow up.

Let’s let our friends be wrong.

Let’s disagree without attacks.

Let’s stop this If you believe “X” then you’re automatically “Y” false dichotomy.

Let’s pick up the phone and have conversations when we disagree. If you don’t have their phone number, send them a private message asking to get on Skype to talk it out.

Find where you agree first, and hash out the details. Agree to disagree, and move on.

But these mindless vicious attacks on each other is only going to head us in one direction: the division of the secular community and the passing of legislation by the Religious Right. Then, we all lose.

They don’t have to divide and conquer, we’re doing that ourselves. And that’s exactly what they want.

To be a bunch of skeptics, who claim to pride ourselves on “enjoying the concept of being wrong,” we sure don’t act like it.

It sure seems like our egotistical subculture of shaming anyone who makes a mistake has infiltrated our so-called skeptical community, and many of us would rather sink the ship than admit we’ve made made a mistake, or say “I’m sorry.”

And then some will even lie to justify their actions, or be so steeped in anger at the opposition, that their memory of the event is so skewed that they thought they had evidence they never did. It really becomes absurd. It forgets we’re human.

So do what you will, but just know, that when you take part in this type of behavior on either side, whether your actions are justified or not; whether you’re right or not, you may think you’re “taking a stand” against some idiot at the time.

But what you’re really doing, is the Lord’s Work.

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