If I had to walk the dog in the sticky heat tonight, I was going to be entertained while I did and so I decided to load up my fellow Canadian, Shannon Q’s channel for a listen. She had Jimmy Snow (Dear Mr. Atheist) on as a guest to discuss the atheist “community” and what ensued was one of the most inspiring conversations I’ve listened to in a long time. I found myself brimming with things to say, but I couldn’t say them because I walking little Lucy Fur all around town. I started walking faster and dragging her behind me (gently! She’s my baby) so I could get home before I lost my train of thought.
I think I made it. I had to shower. It’s really humid out there, guys. So here I go, hair still wrapped in a towel.
Jimmy had a lot to say about uniting under the label atheist. He brought up a lot of good points. For instance, the fact that the only thing any of us have in common for sure is a lack of belief in a god. We can be left-wing or right, liberal or conservative, pro-choice or pro-life. You could really like rocking out to old Alanis records whereas I would rather tase myself until I pass out. The differences are endless. Uniting atheists is like herding cats as they say and I should know this very well because I help to run International Association of Atheists with Bridget Gaudette. None of you agree on anything. At all.
During his conversation with Shannon, he said that the label atheist doesn’t tell you anything about a person and I agree. I mean, you might be able to successfully guess that they won’t be in church on Sunday, but that’s about it. Jimmy also said that he’s disillusioned with the label because you get lumped in with the jerks. An organization that claims to be atheist could be anything, with any goal, and any set of values. All of this is absolutely spot on.
The problem though is that atheists keep coming. People continue to lose their faith daily. They’re in churches in Kentucky and the curling rink in Red Deer, Alberta. You can find atheists in the Australian outback and shopping in the street markets of Bangkok. They are children and teenagers and adults and even seniors. Every colour, every nationality and every shape and size. No matter where you go, people are discovering the holes in religious scripture and coming to the conclusion that they no longer believe in a god. Where the issue lies, is in the fact that so many of these people walk away from their faith and right into hostility; some of them even find themselves in danger. There are many places where the word atheist sends a shock through one’s body. It’s harsh and awful sounding and immediately triggers, in many people, instant disgust.
The term atheist has, throughout history, carried with it visions of evil, immorality and reckless hedonism. We are viewed as miserable, angry and selfish parasites who suck joy from the world. We are loathed by many, distrusted by more and some people hate us enough to hack us to death in front of our loved ones in the street (rest in peace, Avijit).
As I write this, my friend, colleague and advisory board member, Mubarak Bala has not been heard from in nearing 80 days because he dared live openly as an atheist.
For Mubarak and Avijit and for Raif Badawi and Nacer Amari; for everyone like them all over the world who suffer because they left their faith behind, not only should we unite under the term atheist, but I, personally, feel an obligation.
You see, the stigma that comes with the label atheist isn’t just going to go away by itself. We’re not going to change the minds of Saudi lawmakers by leaving all the uniting to the horrible atheists. We won’t help fathers and mothers in Pakistan see that being an atheist isn’t so bad by standing back and letting the hateful atheists take center stage. We will never make Mormon leaders in Salt Lake see atheists as just as generous, selfless and compassionate as they view their missionaries if we step away from the label and let the thoughtless narcissists dominate.
And it matters, you guys. It matters how these people see atheists. It matters because people are dying for it. Real blood is being shed by good and decent people simply because they don’t share the beliefs of their neighbours. Lives are lost because of the word atheist.
We need to change how people see atheists so we can save the lives of newly freed apostates all over the world. We need the good atheists, the generous atheists, the selfless and compassionate atheists to be loud and to drown out the voices of the pitiful, joyless angry ones. It is the only way we remove the stigma. We must make the world see that being an atheist doesn’t automatically mean you’re a repugnant dickhole.
We have to remove the stigma so that our newbies don’t walk straight into harm’s way when they leave god behind. We must. Our friends are dying, for f*cks sake.
So, I’m pretty naive and idealistic, I get it, but I also realize that not everyone feels the same way I do. Many atheists out there feel it’s not their place or responsibility to take on the gargantuan task of stripping the stigma from atheism. Not all of us want to do that and that’s fine. But I do ask that we don’t tell the ones who do that it’s futile. We have already seen great change. Just this past week, Sudan decided that the death penalty is no longer a reasonable punishment for apostasy. The attitudes toward atheists are slowly changing and having the best of the godless community unite under that label for good can only make things move faster.
So don’t avoid uniting under the label atheist because some of the loudest voices are the most abhorrent. Instead, take the mic from them and be louder. Force the world to see that even though we might not be in church on Sunday morning, atheists can be pretty freaking great.
Some of us, anyway.
Thanks for the great show, Shannon and Jimmy. If you want to unite as atheists even just a little, our organization has some pretty cool member perks and we spread secular education, fight blasphemy laws and rescue atheists in danger in hostile parts of the world. Join here.
I’m writing a book addressing the many reasons believers distrust atheists. I’m around 40,000 words in! If you want to help me get it done, you can support me by donating here or becoming a patron here.