After reading one of Jonny’s posts over at Leaving Fundamentalism earlier, I felt moved to write a fairly strong and personal response. However, it’s not my normal fare and I didn’t have the happiest of childhoods. Some of what I write is a little raw, and it makes reference to abuse which some may find distressing.
So, consider yourself warned and proceed if you want.
Someone posted this on Facebook:
”Atheism is for everybody, but maybe everybody isn’t for atheism. Its the most unprejudicial, unbigoted, no-agenda school of thought you could hope to find. Some people just aren’t equipped for such an unorthodox way of life of dealing in truth and being nice to people for the sake of it.” – Darryn Roberts
To which I replied:
It’s a great quote, and perhaps it describes an ideal atheist, but it’s clearly not true in the real world.
Many atheists are prejudiced, as Alison said ironically, against people of faith, but also about other minority groups. There are bigoted comments made by self-described atheists about others. There is a clear agenda being promoted by some atheists (for example, anti-theist school of thought is very much prejudicial, bigoted and agenda’d).
Unfortunately, it’s more something to aim for rather than a description of reality 😥
To which came the reply:
David, you are a dumbass!
Which I can’t disagree with, but to be honest is more heat than light. So I replied with:
And there we see, right on cue, an example of people not “being nice to people for the sake of it.”
Now, perhaps that was harsh, but here came the reply:
David. Saying that the anti-theist agenda is prejudicial and bigoted just proves that you have the mentality of a gnat unable to grasp complex ideas. Religion is what invented bigotry by telling one group of people that they are better than another. Atheism is the opposite of that. We believe that all people are the same. Have you tried educating yourself? It might help.
So I replied with:
I didn’t say atheism was prejudicial (that means something different), I said atheists were prejudiced (therefore, atheism cannot be free of prejudice). In fact, this is hardly news, because prejudice is essential to our every day functioning and survival. For example, today I used the prejudice (pre-judgement, if you like) of not stepping out in front of a fast moving car, because I thought it might kill me. I’m also somewhat prejudiced against people with knives and guns, because I perceive those things as being a risk. I dare say that my ancestors ran away from things that looked like they might be big cats in the jungle.
Prejudice just means judging a situation or person before learning the details. By definition, an anti-theist position *is* prejudiced, because, without knowing every detail, it assumes that no matter the benefits which might be associated with any form of theism, the costs will outweigh them.
Bigotry means being obstinate and stubborn in one’s opinion’s and prejudices. Certainly, classic examples include forms of misogyny, homophobia, classism, racism (etc…), and many of these have been perpetuated by religious groups. This doesn’t mean such behaviour is restricted to religious groups: such bigoted behaviours have been observed in skeptical groups (to name but one non-theistic social group).
However, it’s going too far to suggest that bigotry was “invented” by religion. It’s thought to have arisen in tribal society as a way of clearly differentiating Us (who are moral people, trying to raise our families and struggling to get enough food to eat and drink and stave off illness) from Them (the tribes and villages around us, who are immoral people, trying to kill our families, steal our food and drink and who bring disease to our village). Whilst this is clearly an extreme simplification, it certainly fits with how we know social groups form and adopt an identity around certain social norms, mores and values.
Indeed, one might argue that telling someone they are a dumbass and suggesting they educate themselves is a form of tribal in group/out group behaviour, trying to reinforce a certain identity by minimising the value of the other, trying to show they’re an outsider because they question the core norms of the group!
I might add that as a gay man, former born-again Baptist fundamentalist and modern-philosophical-atheist – along with my academic training – I have seen all sides of this coin. I have seen the forms of both bigotry and kindness which exist in religious groups; I have seen the hatred shown towards non-heterosexuals in society; I have seen the rational and irrational positions taken by atheists, skeptics and rationalists. And I see that whilst some are better on some measures than others, none are immune to the delightful quirks brought by imperfect humans.
Atheism, as a social movement (as opposed to an ideal) is flawed, and has the same social flaws as other groups. It’s made up of imperfect people living in an imperfect world. However, it is one of those groups which are perhaps a bit more reflective than other groups, and is a bit more aware of its imperfection, and tries to correct the flaws. It doesn’t have an ultimate sacred standard of truth, so it typically uses empiricism and rationalism to identify truths and falsities. However, it’s made of people doing people things in people ways.
Now, to get back to this literature survey…
Which I followed up with
Erk, mistake on my part. I did say prejudicial, and I apologise for my error. I did in fact mean prejudiced (ie. possessing prejudices). My bad!
…because I’m nothing if not intellectually honest.
I have to say, this failure to be sufficient reflective to recognise one’s own group’s failures really does irk me!
Edit: and the reply comes…
David you really need to buy a dictionary. Not stepping in front of a speeding car is not prejuduce, it’s common sence self preservation. If that’s what you think prejudice is you are a dumbass. it means to pre-judge. To judge before finding proof or evidence. Also your commont about tribes being against each other on moral grounds is the start of the bigotry of the religion of one person thinking that they have the right to dictate anothers morality. I stand by my statement. YOU ARE A DUMBASS!! I laugh at you.
I feel laughed at.