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09 October 2011

Just Existing Makes Atheists Dicks

Well, it would seem that way...  The following story was posted at Freethought Blogs by JT Eberhard.  The whole story reminds me of a similar experience.  A while back I had put together a presentation on the Spirit and Opportunity rovers, and I wanted to do a bit of a public outreach on science to the local community in the Panhandle* of Florida (Niceville to be exact).  I mentioned this in the local paper's community forum, made a blog post there about it, and put up a poster at the library.

Come the night of my presentation, no one showed up.  After 15 minutes of putting up pretty pictures of Mars and photographs the rovers had taken, I was finally approached by a few adults.  They kindly (in that totally hypocritical, covered in sugar, I'd like to see you burn in hell kind of way they do in the south) asked me to remove the posters and please leave.  They didn't want any of "the devil's science to taint the purity of their children."  You can't make this shit up!

Anyway, on to the letter at Freethought Blogs:
This past weekend I had an experience I wanted to share with everyone. In the past, I would have simply done so on my own blog, but as I’ve become a public person and my chances of finding and keeping a job in my profession depend on me not being the outed atheist I have been in the past, I’ve tended to downplay such posts over the past few years. But the experience this weekend was too frustrating not to use to make a point that many in the atheist movement, have been hammering at for a long while now.

I have a tendency to do quite a bit of science outreach and this past weekend, I set up a telescope in a public place. I had a large number of people stopping by and my objective was just to let them look and marvel. I’d answer questions, but I wasn’t out to shove science factoids at them, and absolutely wasn’t going to bring up religion. Yet at one point, it happened. It wasn’t a theist that did so, but another of the bypassers that made some off hand comment that didn’t make room for any sort of God. A theist, standing nearby objected and although I’m not quite sure how (I was too busy having to adjust the telescope) they got onto the topic of Jesus invalidating the laws set forth in the Old Testament.

This is where I jumped in on the conversation. I pointed out that this depends on who you ask. Most Christians accept this, yet others note that Jesus at some point mentioned that Jesus claimed to come to “uphold his Father’s word”. This is an argument I’ve heard from several preachers. It’s often the basis for maintaining emphasis on Levitical laws to hate on gays. As such, the blanket statement from the theist, that Christianity as a whole rejects the OT laws and that he could treat his interpretation as the one true version. I made a few other quick notes that what various sects of Christianity, and other faiths that draw their basis from the Torah, deem as important varies wildly. And that was the end of the conversation at that point.

Yet a few hours later, as I packed up my telescope, the theist came walking by and asked why I was so “hostile to Christianity”.

I admit that I stumbled on this one. I didn’t think that I had been. I hadn’t in any way said that it was wrong, or even he was wrong. I only noted that there’s lots of interpretations on a vague source and no way to know if they were correct. He responded, not by disagreeing, but instead calling me “arrogant”, “close-minded” and “elitist”.

I’ll skip the part with all the other tropes where he tried to claim that science was just another religion, or that evolution didn’t have evidence, or the fossil record was incomplete, or that we’d never seen species diverge, and that Christians are horribly persecuted. I think we all know silly these arguments are. If you don’t, leave a comment and I’m sure someone will come along and explain it.

I’m not going to get into those because they really don’t phase me. They’re lies that are taught by religion that theists have never been taught to critically analyze so they blindly parrot. I really can’t blame them; religion is convincing and skeptical thinking isn’t taught in schools.

What does bother me is the attempts to claim that I was being “hostile”, “arrogant”, “close-minded”, and “elitist”. And here I thought I’d been being damn accommodating. I didn’t make the claim there was no God. I didn’t insult him personally. I just mentioned that there were many interpretations within the Christian faith. This is a simple fact that I would think is broadly recognized.

Yet it’s enough to make Christians feel attacked and lash out, playing the victim card, claiming that atheists are being mean.

And that’s the point I want to get at.

Phil Plait says not to be a dick.

I wasn’t.

But I was perceived as one.

This, and countless other experiences show that accommodationism doesn’t work. We don’t have to actually attack religion to be offensive. Simply existing will do it. And as this experience shows, even mentioning that other Christians may disagree will do it. It’s not atheists that scare them. They’ve been taught to fear every shadow, including their own.

In many equal rights movements, we hear about how simply the fear of being thought of as different will effectively silence the oppressed. “Gay baiting” (the practice of insinuating an opponent is gay in an effort to shame them so others stop listening) is a perfect example of this. Events like this are a direct parallel. Atheists are being shamed into silence for fear of being a dick. Even when they do discuss it, we often substitute other words like “skeptic”, or hide behind the “agnostic” label.

All because we don’t want to be a dick.

And that’s a damned shame. It’s a shame that pointing out something as mild as “Christians disagree” makes me a dick. And it’s a double damned shame that such things are so offensive that I’m asking JT to post this, because my employment may depend on not being even perceived as a dick.

We’re in a catch 22 here, which is exactly what the theocratic superpower wants.

What do I make of this? The lesson I’ve been so starkly reminded of here is that I can’t worry about being a dick when placed in such a situation. If I’m going to be thought of one no matter what, I should make the best, most devastating arguments possible. Someone else might be listening.

Which is exactly what happened this weekend. During the entire exchange, a young girl (who later told me had just started college) was listening. She approached me afterward and told me she could see where the better argument lie and that, having grown up in a tiny town, she had never seen anyone able to stand toe to toe with someone so adamant about their religion. I didn’t ask if she was religious. I didn’t need to. Even if she was, it was clear that the exchange left a deep impression.

And that’s what is important. We can’t let ourselves be shamed into silence because of some people that toss up their defensive distractions, calling people arrogant and elitist, whenever challenged. Because people are listening. And whether some people get freaked out over it, being right actually works.

This particular person's story really does show the fight anyone who isn't a christian is in for.  And woe unto those who are atheists (which is worse than being a muslim to them).  So just be simply existing we are somehow offensive to them.  And don't we even dare advertise that we exist!  The fervor and indignant rage that boils up whenever an atheist billboard goes up is almost as if we had posted a picture of atheist lesbians masturbating with bibles!  Well, if we're offensive, it's just too fucking bad!  At least we don't follow some misogynistic bunch of bronze age fables that truly are offensive.  Of course, asking that sort of introspection is also offensive, right?

*By the way, has anyone else noticed that any state that has a "Panhandle" is fundamentally fucked up?

*** I had mentioned some petitions of interest to anyone who understands the secular nature of our nation:

Also, don't forget about this petition to the White House to at least treat military atheists equally

Make E. Pluribus Unum our official motto.

Remove "Under god" from the Pledge of Allegiance.

Remove "In god We Trust" from currency.

Stop Federal Funding and Support of BSA (for their bigoted discriminatory rules).

Remove tax exemption from churches and allow them to apply like a non-profit organization (Especially when they engage in direct political activities)

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