March 7

The Lure of Antiapologetics

The lure of chasing fish.
The lure of chasing fish. Image from Morguefile.

As an atheist, even one who feels like they have graduated from the angry phase of noob atheism, there is a certain attraction for the behavior I call Antiapologetics. Not exactly counterapologetics, which can be part of it, but the active state of challenging apologetics, especially among Young Earth Creation types, science deniers, and social conservatives.

On one hand, it is a rush to delve into debate with soft targets like these. Of course, they will never change their minds. Too much of who they are is invested in it. Even if they did, you are unlikely to ever find out about it.

On the other, it portrays atheists as intolerant blowhards, trolls, stalkers, or, worse, intellectuals. It seems not to be the kind of activity that does anything positive. So, why do atheists do it?

Newer atheists (not ‘New Atheists’) tend to have pent up frustration, anger, and resentment towards religion for wasting their time and money for so long. The temptation to rush in, guns blazing, defending the Atheist Way is a strong one. But, over time, as the atheist matures, they realize the startling truth that there is no “atheist way”. Atheism is a single answer to a single question. It confers no additional meaning. It is not a club, not a group. There is no secret handshake or code of ethics. Of course, if theists taught the truth about atheists, fresh atheists would know this. But, it isn’t exactly in the general theist best interest to be accurate in their portrayal of the people the consider to be an enemy.

So, then, where does this drive come from?

Well, we’re humans. We like to be right. It helps reinforce our worldviews when we confirm ourselves as correct. We, as humans, do a lot of things to accomplish this. Whether it is being part of a fandom, being a fan of a specific sports team, or merely hanging out with friends, we work best when we have positive re-enforcement. Become an atheist is a completely new thing, as there is no inherent structure for re-enforcement from our peers. Atheist churches and study groups have sprung up to try and provide this structure, which, of course, some theists attack. What they do not realize is that when people are marginalized and isolated, they tend to get stuck in negative cyclical thinking. I would be completely unsurprised if Craig Hicks, the atheist who shot and killed the three Muslim students, was isolated from others.

To return to the main topic, antiapologetics tends to appear in fresh atheists who are still in the early stages of atheism. The good news is that the core of the practice is research and knowledge, which naturally leads the fresh atheist towards maturity. It also drops the rates of recidivism. Few, if any, mature atheists become religious once they are atheists.

Take, for example, the case of Ryan Bell.

Now, in his case, his path was slightly different than most atheists. A minister who decided to test his own faith and found it lacking. I applauded his attempt even before he, in the end, rejected his faith in favor of atheism, but my point is that atheists who stick to reason and skepticism and do not fall prey to emotional appeals or other logical fallacies find atheism not a difficult position to maintain.

One of the points I was trying to discuss with this piece is that, sometimes, an atheist has to put their foot down and end their antiapologetics. Even so, it is a difficult road.

Recently, Jeff Dee, one of the hosts of The Atheist Experience, a well known atheist television show out of Austin, responded to a anti-atheist post on a Facebook group. As he is someone I follow online, it popped up on my timeline, and I was drawn into the debate as well. Even though I have tried desperately to stay out of online debates, the siren song of these debates keeps bringing me back in.

I’ve had to resist debating with family and friends. I even unfollowed my own mother on Facebook after a kerfuffle earlier this year.

To sum up, humans like to win. We like to be right. That’s the point of apologetics, counterapologetics, and antiapologetics. Sometimes, the only way to win a game is to not play.