Many people argue against firebrand atheism, or New Atheism, (although there’s nothing new about firebrand atheism), or strong atheism, or non-decaf atheism, or whatever, that it’s misguided and doesn’t deconvert religious people. Maybe. Maybe not. I don’t really care either way. I’m going to remain a firebrand atheist anyway.
I personally don’t agree. I have deconverted people, many of them, and if I have done it means it can happen, and not all religious people are the same and there is no uniform way to change religion. I think ultimately doing something like collecting data about usefulness of firebrand atheism doesn’t change that fact. Even if something like 70% of religious people prefer a delicate approach that treats them fragile petals, an atheist like me would still be useful for those 30% who like a good intellectual challenge.
And also every debate is something individual between two people. When I debate strangers I’m usually very careful – not because I don’t want to offend them but because I want to minimize the chances of being beaten or stabbed or reported to the police (all real concerns in my part of the world) but among friends I’m as firebrand as firebrand can be. And as far as I know I have deconverted more people than any of my atheist friends. Many of whom would be my Muslim friends if it were not for me.
But that could have any number of causes. Maybe Iranians as a general are more into firebrandism. Maybe I’m just good at convincing people for some other reason. Maybe a theocracy is a place where firebrand atheism is more appreciated. Who knows.
But that’s not what I’m going to discuss here. I really don’t care if my firebrand atheism is a turn on or a turn off to most religious people. That’s mainly because I have not devoted my life to deconverting religious people. It could be nice if it happened, but it’s not mandatory or even that much of a high priority.
I have reasons for being a firebrand atheist that don’t involve religious people at all, which I list bellow.
1) You think firebrand atheism is true and you’re also an honest person.
Now if someone believes that firebrand atheism is wrong, all the power to them – argue any way that suits your ideas with anyone. My opinions about religion are very harsh though. I think Abarahamic religions are a very poisonous influence, tyrannical systems that are inherently tyrannical, I think faith as defined by these ideologies is an evil thing, and I find moderate religious people’s arguments less convincing than any other argument I have come across.
So when I’m talking about religion I have two choices: (1) Be firebrand (2) lie.
I have always valued honesty more than being convincing. Actually when I take part in a debate, I want to be convinced as much as I want to convince, so my first and last priority is to present the truth as truthfully as I can. I don’t play games with religious people when I engage them in debate, I don’t look at debate as a political tool, I look at it as an arena out of which the truth must come out victorious, and other people have changed my mind in debates more than I care to remember.
Whenever a religious person asks me “does your atheism makes you scared of death”, my answer is “yes, it deeply troubles me and I fear death and more than that loss and grief and also so far I have found other atheists’ ‘comforting’ thoughts about death nauseating and worthy of Facebook inspirational memes”.
I know this will reduce the chance of me deconverting them and also perpetuates one of those “stereotypes” about atheists which those who are more concerned with window-dressing atheism rather than the truth want to combat. I might change my mind in the future. I haven’t yet.
So, to be honest, the only – the only – thing that can dissuade me from being a firebrand atheist is convincing me that my firebrand atheism is wrong and so far nothing has done so or has even caused me to doubt it maybe a little.
2) Out of respect to religious people.
I have covered this on my blog before.
Today I had a debate with an atheist friend who’s very lenient towards religion, and says that religion is a very valid need of humanity. He says: “Nowhere you hear the word ‘god’ more than in a cancer ward. When people who are lost in a frozen land, seek a shelter, why do you try to take that shelter away from them?” And then he accused me of disrespecting and humiliating theists, and ignoring people’s legitimate need for a shelter.
But the truth is, if that shelter is actually non-existent, and it doesn’t protect you from the icy storm, but you think it does, it only kills you faster. You’re better on the run, aware of the danger. But other than that, I actually think attitudes like this are disrespectful.
Many claim that in order to “respect” the believers, we need to refrain from debating them. I think to refrain from debate is disrespectful. It implies that person cannot handle criticism and must be shielded from the truth like a child. That we need to sugar-coat our own ideas so it can be understood by their lesser minds. No. Believers deserve to be treated as intellectual equals, to have the chance to hear your uncensored and honest version of truth. Point is, the so-called “nice” atheists don’t even realize how condescending their attitude is.
3) Because I don’t want to reinforce religious hegemony.
If you take most firebrand atheist arguments and change the topic to say, liberalism or conservatism, it wouldn’t be called firebrand liberalism or firebrand conservatism, it would be called liberalism or conservatism. I don’t see that many liberals constantly saying “not ALL conservatives believe in banning abortion and some liberals do believe in banning abortion so of course I don’t mean to be a hateful intolerant bigot and say banning abortion is a conservative value but SOME fundamentalist conservatives who of course don’t speak for conservatives at all believe in banning abortion so maybe please think of not banning abortion”. No, liberals usually feel comfortable to say “conservatives want to ban abortion, don’t vote for them!” although of course not ALL conservatives believe in doing so and of course not ALL liberals oppose that.
This also gets peculiar when people argue against ridiculing religion. Ridicule has its place in human culture, and everything can be ridiculed, except religion.
All of this is because that religion has a special status in society few other things have. You can criticize religion, of course – just don’t trivialize it, or ridicule it, or treat it harshly.
Why? It’s at the end of the day a bunch of ideas. And ideas, whether true or not, can be ridiculed and handled harshly.
A moderate Iranian Muslim had said “religion can be argued against in academies, but ridiculing it and dismissing it as a joke is unethical.” Why not? Comedians ridicule everything. People dismiss all ideas.
Firebrand atheism may or may not change people’s ideas, but it will slowly and gradually change the atmosphere, break the taboo of touching religion, and will bring religion down from its heavenly throne. Desecrate something enough and people will start to realize it isn’t that holy.
4) Because I’m more interested in protecting myself from religion than convincing religious people.
Usually when religious people try to force their religion down my throat (which obviously doesn’t include rational debates which aim to convince me which I welcome from them) my reaction is not to try and convince them that they are wrong, my reaction is to demonstrate that they can shove their beliefs up their asses. So, to the person who has stopped me in the street preaching me, Islam forbids me from taking this girl’s hand in mine? That’s awesome! And Islam can go fuck itself! And you too!
Generally, I think setting up boundaries is a more worthy thing to do than changing minds. I prefer to be left alone. If religious people don’t want other people treating their sacred ideas like garbage, maybe they should put them on their own mantelpiece and stop assuming that everyone is one of them and everyone should follow them.
Maybe if a religious person comes across a random person, and wants to gently remind them that angels weep whenever they listen to heavy metal or something, they should legitimately fear “angles can go fuck themselves” as a possible reaction and maybe that fear will be a motivation to not harass people.
Usually when religious people get to know me they either leave me alone as a hopeless case or descend from their high horse to engage me in rational equal debate. I’m perfectly happy with both results.
5) Maybe I’m not addressing religious people at all.
Maybe my audience is other atheists. Maybe I’m happy with that. Maybe I want to influence the atheist movement. Maybe I want to increase ex-Muslim presence in the atheist movement. Maybe I feel atheists need to hear an ex-Muslim version of things. Maybe I want atheists to stop saying particular things about Islam. Maybe I want atheists to support reformists and nuclear talks with Iran. Maybe I want other atheists to have a more accurate picture of Iran.
All of those maybes are true, by the way.
6) Because I want to tell my own story.
My relationship with religion has not been very pleasant. We had a rather ugly break up, when I read the Qur’an and discovered endless layers of disgusting bullshit. And then I was bullied at school and had some very traumatic experiences for my atheism. Religion – Islam – has hurt me a lot. And I’ve got a story to tell.
Maybe if I were not born in a country like Iran, my atheism would be different. Maybe if my experiences with religion weren’t so damning, my atheism would be much different. But I wasn’t born in Switzerland and I didn’t have pleasant experiences with religion, and therefore I have a story to tell.
And I have my own opinions about religion. They may be wrong, but they’re genuine, well thought out, and reflective of who I am. And I deserve to be heard. I deserve to be a part of the debate.
You can disagree with me. You can try to convince that I’m wrong. But you can never silence me. You can’t because I’m not letting you. You have no right to dictate my priorities. You have no right to tell me to not tell my story and not speak the truth as I understand it for any political reason. You can argue that firebrand atheism is wrong, but you can never just brush it off and wish it weren’t part of the larger debate.
I am trapped in a theocracy and I have learned another language and I have made an online window out of my prison just to make myself heard, just to make my voice matter. If the theocracy of the Islamic Republic has not silenced me, your demands and priorities never would.
Ultimately, my atheism is about me, not religious people.