Sounds grandiose, I know, but according to Brendan O’Neill in the Telegraph UK, we atheists are now the “the most colossally smug and annoying people on the planet“.
These days, barely a week passes without the emergence of yet more evidence that atheists are the most irritating people on Earth. Last week we had the spectacle of Dawkins and his slavish Twitter followers (whose adherence to Dawkins’ diktats makes those Kool-Aid-drinking Jonestown folk seem level-headed in comparison) boring on about how stupid Muslims are. This week we’ve been treated to new scientific research claiming to show that atheists are cleverer than religious people. I say scientific. I say research. It is of course neither; it’s just a pre-existing belief dolled up in rags snatched from various reports and stories. Not unlike the Bible. But that hasn’t stopped the atheistic blogosphere and Twitterati from effectively saying, “See? Told you we were brainier than you Bible-reading numbskulls.”
Atheists online are forever sharing memes about how stupid religious people are. I know this because some of my best Facebook friends are atheists. There’s even a website called Atheist Meme Base, whose most popular tags tell you everything you need to know about it and about the kind of people who borrow its memes to proselytise about godlessness to the ignorant: “indoctrination”, “Christians”, “funny”, “hell”, “misogyny”, “scumbag God”, “logic”. Atheists in the public sphere spend their every tragic waking hour doing little more than mocking the faithful. In the words of Robin Wright, they seem determined “to make it not just uncool to believe, but cool to ridicule believers”. To that end if you ever have the misfortune, as I once did, to step foot into an atheistic get-together, which are now common occurrences in the Western world, patronised by people afflicted with repetitive strain injury from so furiously patting themselves on the back for being clever, you will witness unprecedented levels of intellectual smugness and hostility towards hoi polloi.
Wow, what a lot of horseshit. yes, I do see a lot of nasty comments from atheists on twitter, Facebook, and other public internet spaces. I certainly admit that some atheists are not very polite in how they approach their conflicts with religion and believers, and the openness of this response is relatively new.. But the emotions behind the actions did not happen in a vacuum, or arise without provocation.
For centuries, the religious have persecuted non-believers, not just atheists, but anyone who was not a follower of the particular beliefs of the powerful. Atheists were reviled by all and even currently in many parts of the world, can be imprisoned or executed for their unbelief. While many parts of the Western world have moved on, it can still be political suicide to seek election while proclaiming atheism as a world view.
So, what’s gone wrong with atheism? The problem isn’t atheism itself, of course, which is just non-belief, a nothing, a lack of something. Rather it is the transformation of this nothing into an identity, into the basis of one’s outlook on life, which gives rise to today’s monumentally annoying atheism. The problem with today’s campaigning atheists is that they have turned their absence of belief in God into the be-all and end-all of their personality.
Um, no. Anyone following the news is very well aware of the damage that combining religion and politics continues to create. We can think of the Islamic theocracies (or functional theocracies) around the world: e.g Saudi Arabia, Iran, Yemen, and Sudan. We can also consider countries such as Russia, Nigeria, and Uganda where the religious are leading the fight against rights for women, gays, and other minorities.
In the US, the anti-choice laws that are proliferating throughout many states are driven by christian organizations. Efforts are being made in Canada to bring back the abortion debate as well, but with much less success than south of the border. Although politicians are often leery of improving abortion services for fear of losing the votes of the religious.
Activists and critics are very often are angered and frustrated by this and those of us whoa re atheists stand up and yell loudly for a more secular, fact-based government. We use our atheist to differentiate ourselves from believers who use their religion as a means of swaying government action.
So, what’s gone wrong with atheism? The problem isn’t atheism itself, of course, which is just non-belief, a nothing, a lack of something. Rather it is the transformation of this nothing into an identity, into the basis of one’s outlook on life, which gives rise to today’s monumentally annoying atheism. The problem with today’s campaigning atheists is that they have turned their absence of belief in God into the be-all and end-all of their personality. Which is bizarre. Atheism merely signals what you don’t believe in, not what you do believe in. It’s a negative. And therefore, basing your entire worldview on it is bound to generate immense amounts of negativity. Where earlier generations of the Godless viewed their atheism as a pretty minor part of their personality, or at most as the starting point of their broader identity as socialists or humanists or whatever, today’s ostentatiously Godless folk constantly declare “I am an atheist!” as if that tells you everything you need to know about a person, when it doesn’t. The utter hollowness of this transformation of a nothing into an identity is summed up by the fact that some American atheists now refer to themselves as “Nones” – that is, their response to the question “What is your religious affiliation?” is “None”. Okay, big deal, you don’t believe in God, well done. But what do you believe in?
It seems to me that O’Neill is basing his generalizations on the writings of some atheist bloggers and the tweets and Facebook postings of a number of others. But it is a matter of perspective. Do I and others write against religion or in favour of secularism? Do we campaign against persecution and bigotry or in favour of human rights and equality? Am I against pseudoscience or pro-science and pro-skepticism? I am sure that many posts are written with a slant one way or another, but I most certainly do want to work towards, what I see as positive goals.
I am also very invested in my family and with my friends, and in many, perhaps most, or my personal interactions, atheism or religion are never mentioned. I certainly do not know anyone whose primary view of themselves is as an anti-theist. Are the people O’Neill refers to devoid of love for their families, have no hobbies, or support no sports teams? Not likely. The difference is our activism is pro-secular which can also be phrased as anti-religion.
The other aspect that O’Neill ignores is that many of us find the constant stream of religion that we are faced with every day is offensive to us. Perhaps he doesn’t see visits by Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons as annoying, but most of us certainly do. Perhaps he isn’t offended by the tax breaks and subsidies that religious organizations leach from our taxes, but many of us do. Perhaps he is perfectly fine with women being treated as baby carriers without personal rights, but I do. Speaking out against these, by necessity, means speaking out against religion.
Were the atheists of the past as laid back as O’Neill claims? Not at all. In many cases they had to be more circumspect to prevent serious consequences, just as many must be today.
Speaking out against people like Todd ‘legitimate rape’ Atkin, James ‘Focus on the Family’ Dobson, Ruhollah ‘Supreme Leader of Iran’ Khomeini, or Jorge ‘Pope Francis’ Bergoglio, requires some negativity and strong language and severe criticism of the religions they follow.
Are some atheists annoying and smug? Fucking right we are.