26 June 2011

No honor among thieves, no credulity among atheists?

Even setting aside the incessant hair-splitting between professed atheists and professed agnostics, nontheism is far from being anything close to a coherent ideology. To be united by unbelief is a fragile alliance at best, and many of us are as skeptical of one another as we are of religion.

Take a look at some of the other atheist blogs I link to on my sidebar - Pharyngula, Friendly Atheist, BlagHag, Secular Right, The Intersection - and you'll see that we're scattered widely across every layer of the ideological map excepting theology. We don't just differ on politics and economics, but also on how to relate to religious people and even how atheists ought to live their lives.

Those of us who feel inclined to blog tend to be opinionated and outspoken individuals. It comes as no surprise, then, that when one notorious atheist blogger makes a post disagreeing with other notorious atheist bloggers, my RSS feeds are flooded with diatribe and discord.  Here are a few examples from this year alone:


Back in February, Columbus atheists Sharon Moss and Lyz Liddell co-wrote a guest post on Blag Hag discussing alleged unwitting sexism within the atheist movement, specifically in relation to their take on an incident that happened at the Southeast Regional Atheist Meet. Heated debate followed in the comments and on other blogs, much of it dwelling on semantics ("woman" or "female"?) instead of on the core issues (why are the voices of "New Atheism" overwhelmingly men, why are some atheist women uncomfortable at majority-male atheist gatherings, and what can/should we do to change that?)
Image credit: Ryan Brown

A side note: those who sided with Team Jen in the controversy probably wouldn't take kindly to the writings of right-wing atheist Heather Mac Donald, known for referring to feminists as "hysterical"; she regards feminist philosophy (and all leftist claims, really) with the same dismissive cynicism that many atheists have toward religion.

Cleaning up after misguided Pastafarians

When a few teenage asshats in Oregon decided to vandalize local churches two weeks ago with Flying Spaghetti Monster graffiti, Hemant Mehta stepped up to condemn the vandals' actions and started collecting money for a cleanup fund. The churches ended up not needing the assistance, so the unused funds were donated to godless charity Foundation Beyond Belief (FBB).

A two-pronged outrage ensued in the comments on Friendly Atheist. Some readers felt that helping a church for any reason was a terrible idea, and some felt that even supporting FBB was a terrible idea because of their "Challenge the Gap" project, which gives funds to one religiously-affiliated charity each quarter to be used for strictly secular humanitarian purposes. Such critics were, of course, free to not donate. Nevertheless, some left angry comments on the Friendly Atheist posts, expressing stronger disdain toward the donation drive than they did toward the vandalism.

Mythbusting myths about what myths atheists believe

An amusing feud has played out this past week between Be Scofield and PZ Myers. Scofield posted a list of false notions which he believes that other atheists believe about religion. I happen to agree with a few of his points on principle, but I think his post as a whole attacks a straw-man concept he's imagined of non-accommodationist atheists. PZ certainly thought so, promptly posting a rebuttal which Scofield promptly countered; PZ couldn't let that stand and had to get the last word in.

Cantankerous Cephalopod has had enough of your disingenuous assertions.
I have to hand it to both of them for responding to each others' arguments line by line and linking to the original posts, but I'm not sure what value the ad hominem insults they hurled back and forth (hypocrite, religious apologist, etc.) contributed to their debate about nothing.

Can we all get along?

The word atheist doesn't really say much about a person's beliefs, apart from an absence thereof regarding gods, demons, and spirits.  It doesn't pin your political beliefs to a particular platform regarding economics, foreign policy, or the size of the government, nor does it even necessitate an interest in politics. Heated arguments between atheists might be perceived as fighting within our ranks, but do we really even have ranks to fight within?

I've said before that I think that religion is a symptom and not a cause of disruptive friction in human society.  Strip away the religious aspects of politics in this country and we'll still be individuals with differing opinions debating the same problems with the same vigor and vitriol.  Atheists and agnostics are simply people who have taken religion out of the equation in their lives, and agreeing on that one aspect leaves us no shortage of issues on which to disagree.

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