I read Martin Pribble’s rather interesting blog post on Slate last night. He basically announced that he was through being an “online atheist”. After reading it, I started posting a comment to the post when my browser crapped out on me, causing me to lose the comment in progress. I was more than three paragraphs in when it happened. We all know how frustrating that is.
Anyway, rather than start over and try posting the comment again, I just left it alone. I was swamped as it was, and needed to focus on other stuff. Last night, however, the post simmered and sunk in, and I woke up this morning inspired to put a response on the blog.
So here it is, I’m going to respond to Pribble’s post directly, paragraph by paragraph. Old-school, forum style (my responses are bold/italicized)…
Leaving the Tribe
Why I’m no longer part of the online atheism community.
For the last five years I have considered myself an “activist atheist.” I trolled Facebook and Twitter for theists and told them why they are wrong. I made fun of them for their unreasonable beliefs. I would analyze and nitpick their statements, show examples of just where they went wrong and why, and even at times ridicule them when there seemed to be no option left, all in the vain hope that I might be able to sway them to a more rational way of viewing the world and the universe. This could be extremely satisfying, and sometimes I found I could even come to a level of agreement with a believer about the realities of life. I even have friends among my Twitter following who are priests and strong Christians.
But I’m through with it, and I no longer want to be part of the online atheist “community.” What I was once a proud member of, a group who fought against the evils of deliberate misinformation coming from religious groups and people, has become, at least on the surface, a parade of contradiction and caterwauling against theists who have no clue that there could be an alternate viewpoint or understanding of the universe than their own. The times of satisfaction are outweighed by feelings of frustration and hopelessness.
Seems to me that you’ve seriously lost sight of why it’s important to be vocal as an atheist. “Frustration and hopelessness”? Are you serious? I think you need to figure out why you even became a vocal atheist in the first place. Was it out of some egotistical sense of satisfaction, or was it to try to make a real difference in the way people view, discuss and understand their existence? Were you thinking that there was going to be some kind of self-serving, self-satisfying payoff in being vocal? Could you be anymore egotistical? All this, in my opinion, means you obviously became “vocal” for all the wrong reasons.
Don’t get me wrong—I’m still an atheist. But I will no longer be dragged into debates with theists who make a ludicrous claim, then base their evidence on the very book from which their ludicrous claim originates. There is no point in it.
Well, there you go then. Why would you get into endless loop debates with theists on their terms, at all? That’s something I’ve yet to understand about some atheists. How they let themselves get sucked into self-defeating, life-sucking debate topics where one side is of it is completely founded on FANTASY! MYTH! BULLSHIT!
I learned a long time ago, that the point of debating with a believer is simple. It’s to get them to understand, however remotely, that the side they’re on has no standing on fact, proof, evidence, or anything of substance. That takes little, if any, effort. As a vocal atheist, that’s really all you need to do. You don’t need to debate them on ludicrous claims, or passages from a silly book. In fact, when you DO that, you just waste time, a LOT of time. And in the end, you go nowhere.
Did you never learn that in your five years of being an “online atheist”? I’d be embarrassed to admit that if I were you.
All this back-and-forth sniping serves to do is to make us feel a sense of superiority to the person making the claims and does nothing for them except leave them with a smugness about their assumption that “atheists are all mean.” Faith overrides knowledge and truth in any situation, so arguing with a theist is akin to banging your head against a brick wall: You will injure yourself and achieve little.
Again… are you kidding me? You are just figuring this out now? Took you long enough. But in any case, let me address this paragraph in the detail that it deserves:
1. Basing your opinions on tangible facts, logic, and science DOES make your opinion superior to someone’s whose opinion is based on fiction, faith, and/or bullshit. Which part of that do you not understand?
2. When I engage in a debate based on facts (which is always), and bring some believer down to earth with said facts, I don’t feel smug afterwards. I don’t have to. I knew I was dealing with facts. All I needed to do was let the facts do the talking for me. Having a keen understanding that the truth is the truth whether or not you “believe” it, is enough for me. I don’t need to come away from a discussion with some strange buzz of victory or satisfaction. That’s not why I debate.
3. Faith does NOT override knowledge or truth in any situation. Again, what are you talking about? If what you were saying was true, people would not pay their bills on the basis of their “faith”. Because they think their “god” will provide for them. People would not go to work, because they believe that their “god” would keep them housed, clothed, and fed. How ludicrous is that? All we, as atheists, need to do is point out their obvious hypocrisy and silliness in sticking to their “faith” on one level, and not do so on all levels. Really, that’s it. Believers have to answer to this to THEMSELVES in the course of a discussion.
All we need to do is point out the obvious. The reason they are so clinging to their “faith” even against the most damning evidence debunking it is cognitive dissonance, and denial. Believe it or not, that’s really your only job as a vocal atheist. Really.
And how do you do that exactly? Simple, by letting believers understand that what they believe, in this day and age, is completely, and absolutely LUDICROUS. It’s the 21st century for fuck’s sake. There is simply no room in the realm of modern thought to cling on to archaic, bronze age, divisive, silly, and nonsensical beliefs. And dare I say that those beliefs are inherently and directly DANGEROUS. Ultimately, they only cause grave harm to mostly innocent, poor, and/or uneducated people. People who don’t have a voice of their own for whatever reason.
This will not change an awful lot in what I do online. But I think I’ve come to a point where I am only injuring myself if I were to continue engaging in theistic debating about things like the efficacy of the Noah’s Ark story.
Then DON’T debate Noah’s Ark with believers! LAUGH AT THEM for believing in such a ludicrous fairy tale in the first place. Mock and dismiss it to the point of shame. If you spent a big chunk of the last five years debating on silly minutiae such as this, I’m sorry to say, you’ve wasted an ENORMOUS amount of time.
If someone is espousing beliefs that are actively harmful—i.e., promoting intolerance based on belief systems—expect me to be the first to stand up and say something.
Um… Martin, I have a little newsflash for you. ALL “beliefs” based on faith or fantasy, particularly when it comes to religion, are at the very least inherently harmful. Again, have you not learned anything over the last five years?
All of them. Even down to the most innocent-sounding bible story.
Why? Because everything regarding religion is a sum of ALL its parts. People who continue going to catholic church out of a rather innocent-sounding “tradition”, or because of their culture, regardless of what they really “believe” or don’t believe, still contribute to the overall problem. No matter how innocuous they think their religious activities are.
The reality is that these “harmless believers” are STILL supporting a MULTI-BILLION DOLLAR ENTERPRISE by attending their cute little countryside or downtown church. They are still subsidizing and financing an institution that has systematically aided and abetted in the rape and molestation of hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of children over the last millennium. A church that has killed MILLIONS of innocent people in just this century alone. And that’s just the catholics.
I can’t allow this kind of thinking, and if I can help it, I will move to sway the believer into rethinking their position. But this will be done with reason and rational discourse, not with contradicting the finer points of the religious texts.
Well, seems to me that you should have been doing that all along. And understand that there’s nothing wrong with picking your battles. All I can say is that it’s better you learned this now, after obviously banging your head against a wall for the last five years. Better late than never. Although, it’s obviously too late.
It all comes down to a simple fact, which I think applies to Internet communities—so frequently home to us-vs.-them thinking—in general: People will be more easily swayed if you don’t attack them personally.
Us vs. them? How about TRUTH vs FANTASY? How about FACT vs. FICTION? And what’s wrong with telling someone whose beliefs are silly, archaic, and destructive the TRUTH about their beliefs? Especially if they have no grounds whatsoever to base what they believe on in the first place?
I’ll tell you. Nothing.
The truth hurts sometimes. But the truth is the truth. And sometimes, it’s incumbent on the truth-teller to render the pain as directly, if not as humanely as possible. My purpose in standing for truth is not to “sway” people. It’s to get them to ultimately THINK about what they believe. And sorry, if confronted with the truth enough times, some people will do just that. It might just take some people five years. That’s good enough for me.
Others in the atheist community might say that an attack on religion is not a personal attack, but to many believers it is, because that is what they base their lives upon.
And to that, I say… WHO CARES? If someone bases their lives on an extremely flimsy house of cards such as religion, and have managed to go through much of their lives in a haze of denial, then the person needs a dose of truth. Attacking their religion on the basis of truth is really only doing them a favor. It’s saying that the emperor is wearing no clothes. It’s pointing out that there is no elephant in the living room.
Again, the truth hurts sometimes. But the truth IS the truth, and it doesn’t really matter what someone believes. What matters is that they LEARN and UNDERSTAND the truth, however much it hurts. Being exposed to reality is just part of it. Over time, the truth seeps in and people (some, not all) will adjust their lives accordingly. Having their beliefs challenged is most times the only way to get on that slow but necessary path to enlightenment.
If you mock or criticize the believer’s convictions, it is as though you are attacking them personally, and they will shut down the conversation right there. Even worse, they’ll GO INTO ALL-CAPS MODE, as if that makes the defense of belief more substantial.
Well, in case you haven’t yet noticed, I often go into ALL CAPS MODE. When I do, it’s to emphasize something that deserves emphasis. When a believer does it, it’s in staunch, if not desperate, defense of their utterly ridiculous views. At least most times.
Again, who cares? If a believer takes your criticism personally, that’s not your problem, it’s theirs. I often find that the believers who are most sensitive to scrutiny of their beliefs are often the ones who deep down inside KNOW how ludicrious their beliefs are. But they just don’t know, for whatever reason, how to break out of it. So, often times those ALL CAPS episodes are often exhibits of frustration more than anything else.
An argument can be much more convincing if it gives context and information instead of just derision. Discussing the mathematical or physical impossibilities of Noah’s Ark is much more likely to sway the believer than just saying, “That’s a fairy tale, and you’re a moron for believing it.”
There you go again… focusing on the trivialities and minutiae rather than the FACT that Noah’s Ark is A FAIRY TALE! Yes, of COURSE discussing the mathematical or scientific implausibility of the story is a great way to “sway” a believer. We at least do that on our site, while at the same time RIDICULING THE STORY. Why? Because IT IS RIDICULOUS. Citing the obvious, and the fact that someone who still believes the story is a “moron”, is just a by-product of the debate. Do you still not get that??
Atheists and nonbelievers make up such a small part of the world’s population that we can never hope to change the world by ourselves—certainly not, if our primary weapon is yelling at people we don’t agree with.
Well, Martin, talk about a self-defeating attitude. Not to mention having a rather self-important/aggrandizing attitude at the same time. How in the hell did you do that? Wow.
Martin, I suggest you take a look around you. Religion is dying a slow but steady death. It’s happening because more and more people in the world are getting EDUCATED and exposed to the idea that dogma and doctrine do not dictate their lives. It’s happening because the developed world, at least most of it, has long ago shed religion as a dominating social force. Just look at the most progressive, successful western democracies. Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark. All predominately atheist societies that if anything, are battling with the concept of religious tolerance without providing special preference! That’s the sign of progress. When religion ends being dramatically in the minority to the point of utter powerlessness. The developing world, while on the trailing edge of this progress, will follow, even if while kicking and screaming.
My point is, that all atheists need to do in this day and age is trumpet the truth. They don’t need to preach, they don’t need to “sell” believers on the concept of non-theism. That shit sells itself.
Most theists in the world are not completely delusional. Many see their faith as being primarily about an afterlife and dismiss the more ridiculous stories—about the apocalypse, for instance—as parables used to illustrate a point.
So what are you saying, that believing in an “afterlife” is a virtuous trait? And if what you were saying here was true, we would not be having the religious vs. secularist battles we’re having in places like the US and Australia, not to mention the Arab world. These are battles where forces desperate to maintain influence are trying, rather desperately, to insist that their dogma and doctrine be imposed on whole populations. I’m sorry you deem that view as harmless, but the facts disagree with you.
The problem is, the people we hear most from are not the rational ones. It’s the fanatics with the largest and loudest voices.
Well, as one of those “loud voices”, let me speak in my defense…
I speak LOUDLY because I’ve been hit with a rather grim reality since I started my blog some two or so years ago.
And here is that reality: In other parts of the world, people who speak HALF as loudly or even meekly as I do about the same subject matter, are being KILLED. They are being TORTURED. They are being ARRESTED AND EXECUTED. They are being made to DISAPPEAR. They are being forced to HIDE in FEAR. Just look at what has happened to atheist and secular bloggers in places like Bangladesh, Pakistan, Turkey, Egypt, Yemen, among other countries.
So then ask yourself: Do you not have a DUTY, no a RESPONSIBILITY to speak for them? Since you can? Is it not incumbent on YOU to speak, SCREAM and DEBATE on their behalf? Without any concern for personal satisfaction, reward, or even a pat on the back?? Dismiss this if you want, but this is why I speak out. Louder and more obnoxiously than ever before, for that matter.
I have decided to define myself by what I stand for in life rather than what I don’t believe in. I call this “methodological humanism.” In essence, methodological humanism is a standpoint by which everyone, theist, agnostic, and atheist alike, can agree on as a platform from which we can all benefit: the need for food, water, and sanitation; the protection of our natural environment; and the preservation of the world as a whole. Without these things, we, as a species, cease to exist.
Well, good enough… except for one thing. How do you address the FACT that so much of our resources, financial and otherwise, that can be utilized to satisfy these needs you so eloquently list, are being WASTED, HOARDED, and MISUSED by religious institutions? What about all the tax revenues that could be raised by taxing churches that can be applied to providing services to those in need? What about all the money wasted by poor and working class people forced to pay tithes to their churches all over the world?
How do you discuss this very touchy issue with theists under your new humanist platform without offending them or making them understand that they are part of the greater problem? Here’s a hint, you can’t. So why fool yourself? Why put yourself into such a wishy-washy position that will force you to kowtow to the most offensive forces of humanity due to your reluctance to offend? That makes you a very special kind of apologist. Nothing to be proud of.
So much of Internet discourse is based upon the disagreements we have with one another, and sometimes it feels like sport, about scoring points and relishing your opponent’s missteps.
Well, sorry if that’s how you felt about the discourse you were engaged in over the last five years. You apparently completely missed the point of engaging in spirited debate in the first place. Again, dare I say, you wasted a lot of time over those years.
But if we can first find a space where we agree, a bottom-line for the well-being of all people, then the arguments about belief begin to look like petty squabbling over childhood toys.
Martin, you state the obvious here, but yet, you still miss the point. Squabbling over childhood toys? Yes, it can feel like that sometimes, I’m sure. But only if you’re mis-applying your energies and not really understanding the big picture. Which, it’s clear to me, you’ve lost sight of the big picture long ago, I’m afraid. My question is this. Why this blog post? Why feel the need to explain to people why you yourself are opting out of the “community”? Why not just go quietly into the night? Is it perhaps that you feel you needed to give your ego one last dose before taking off the proverbial gloves?
To me, your diatribe just reinforces the notion that you have always been in this for YOU. Your own ego, and self-satisfaction have always been the centerpiece. Any other motivations you may have or have had were clearly secondary. To which I would say, good riddance. Thank you for bowing out.
Because in all honesty, there are far too many self-important/egotistical online atheists out here. All trying to make a name and/or a buck for themselves rather than understand why exactly they’re in this fight. And yes, it is a fight.
This is not to say that I think people should stop arguing—quite the opposite. Argument helps us suss out the finer points of what we believe to be our rights and needs, and what are simply comforts that we are so used to having that we can’t imagine life with out them.
Yet, you feel the need to drop out of the argument? How disingenuous can you be?