When Atheists Become Disenchanted with the Atheist Community
I’ve been an atheist for about five or six year now; at least, identifying as an atheist. I could make the argument that it has been nearly thirty years, but let’s go from the point at which I said, “I am an atheist.”
In that time, I spent much of it running a religious debate group on Facebook. It’s gone now, taken down by Muslim activists (A story for another day), but one thing I tried very hard to maintain was fairness for all, regardless of their position. I found this was a very hard thing to do. It was not just from the theists who refused to abide by the rules; there were some atheists that couldn’t play fair, either.
Which brings me to my point. I have found that there is a range of atheists, from the comfortable, “live and let live” non-believer to the rabid, foaming at the mouth anti-theist. To be honest, I was expecting a bit more cohesion in the atheist community than what I found. I suppose it was my own foolish hope, thinking that a group thinly tied together by a single attribute would somehow be more homogeneous than other groups I had been in. What I did find, though, was interesting.
Many atheists who were theists keep the same emotional level that they had as theists. Rabid fundamentalist theists become rabid anti-theists, comfortably introspective theists become comfortably introspective atheists. Some very few go through an evolution, especially if, as theists, they were not a single type of theists. Pagans who become atheists seem to be the most even keeled, perhaps because they have already worked through their anger at major religions when they were pagans.
But, like the theist community, and most communities, it is the loudest, most aggressive atheists who end up being up in front, and being the most noticed. There are a few exceptions, like the ACA which runs The Atheist Experience, but people like Richard Dawkins end up being the face of atheism to people who don’t know much about the community.
And therein lies the rub. I don’t particularly care for Mr. Dawkins. He’s a great scientist, but he tends to shoot his mouth off without much care as to the consequences of what he is saying. Like many atheists, he doesn’t see atheism as anything more than an attribute, even though theists see it as a movement, a menace, a cohesive whole. And that means that what he says tends to reflect onto atheists. When he goes off on a sexist rant, it looks bad when I am trying to have a conversation with a fundamentalist woman. Never mind that her religion is ten times worse towards women; she’s learned to deal with that. I’m the bad guy because Dawkins said something bad. I’m not saying Dawkins and others should not speak out, it is just that moderate atheists need to speak out, too. And we need to bridge gaps, even with theists.
Many atheists see all religion as being bad. However, there are many religions which do not have all of the horrible baggage dragging along behind. Take, for example, earth based religions such as Wicca, Druidism, and the like. For the most part, relatively innocuous, and rarely evangelical, yet some atheists attack them just the same.
I say that it is time for moderate atheists like myself to reach out to moderate religions and form friendships, alliances, and bonds. I think that we will be able to temper each other, and both end up better in the long run. We must do so without derision, and without fear or anger. If we don’t I fear that the atheist community will become merely reactionary and extremist.