Thursday, September 2, 2010

Are Outspoken Atheists Doing More Harm Than Good?

Does being confrontational do atheists any favors?
It's one thing to constantly preach to the choir (you're the choir here) about why Christianity is illogical, irrational, and harmful to society, but I truly believe that if you can't step back and evaluate your own side of things from as objective a standpoint as possible then you're doing a disservice both to yourself and anyone who is willing to listen to you on a regular basis. One concern I have about atheists like myself -- vocal, unrelenting, and proud -- is that we may be doing more harm than good for our cause.

Take a look at someone like me from the viewpoint of a fundamentalist Christian: I seem entirely sure of my point of view regarding religion, it seems like nothing they say can convince me otherwise (untrue, but they don't know that), and I write blogs entries that -- despite the logic, research, and reasoning I attempt to use as their foundation -- essentially amount to me making fun of religious people for being dumb. Basically, I'm an arrogant, angry, stubborn atheist hellbent on trying to make it hard for people to practice their respective religions in peace.

In My Own Defense

You know what? I'm not going to argue that I very likely come off exactly the way I described above. However, let me briefly defend myself:

  1. As I said, it's untrue that I can't be convinced of your position as a Christian, I simply need to hear enough sound logical arguments and/or arguments based on scientifically verifiable evidence to outweigh the massive amount of arguments against your position. I have nothing invested in not believing your religion (or any other religion), I've simply studied the evidence for and against and decided that your religion sounds profoundly unlikely. If your religion is true, your all-powerful, loving God has done a piss-poor job of giving anybody a logical reason to believe in it. You claim He gave me my capacity to use reason and logic ... so He should let me use it.
  2. Yes, I very likely come off as arrogant and condescending in my blog posts, I understand that. I made the conscious decision to write them the way that I do, because I can't bring myself to use kiddie gloves with religion. The claims in The Bible are infantile and absurd, as well as oppressive, despicable, and harmful to society. In my opinion, to treat them more softly would be a disservice to humanity. Christianity deserves to be ridiculed, and it does not deserve to be treated as a taboo subject. Holocaust denial also is an absurd, despicable, harmful concept, and we don't feel the need to treat that topic with kiddie gloves. Sure, Christianity does have some positive aspects (although it's arguable whether those can't simply come from bringing a community together via secular means) while Holocaust denial has absolutely none, but both Christianity and Holocaust denial are viewpoints that rest upon little or absolutely no credible evidence and require profound lapses in logic and rationality to be believed. No, I'm not going to play softball here...

But Do We Do More Harm Than Good?

Despite the above, I have to step back and be honest with myself. Is a blog like this self-serving and/or catered only to people who've already made up their minds to be atheists? Do my posts stand an ice cube's chance in Hell of convincing a believer, or will the combative, mocking tones of my entries simply work to put Christian readers on the defensive and make them dig in their heels?

If my posts make believers even more passionately theistic, what have I achieved? If my writing perpetuates the negative stereotype atheists have going against them, who comes out ahead as a result of my writing?

I think a secular, rational world without superstitions would be a better world, and this blog is meant to inspire people not only to head down that path, but also to be proactive in helping others be inspired to do the same. I'd have to admit to hindering the progress I seek if this blog does more harm than good due to its tone.

I admire Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Sam Harris. I read their books, listen to them lecture, and watch them debate theists, and I can't help but nod along with their points. I do mental fist-pumps when they express logical takedowns of idiotic arguments for religion. But there are at least a handful of times in each instance when I think, "Oh, I wish they wouldn't have been so harsh," or "He certainly sounded condescending there; that can't be helpful ..." And yet here I am expressing myself in exactly the same way.

Some Less Confrontational Atheists

50 Reasons People Give for Believing in a GodThere are some atheist authors who take a softer approach at convincing people of the error of their beliefs, and I appreciate their efforts. One of my favorite books regarding reasons not to believe in a god is called 50 Reasons People Give for Believing in a God by Guy P. Harrison. The title avoids being provocative, and he treats his religious readers with respect, as if they just made a little mistake that he's helping them correct. It's non-confrontational and objective, and it certainly is a book I wouldn't think twice about giving to any of my religious friends.

Why I Believed: Reflections of a Former MissionaryHarrison himself recommends a book by Kenneth W. Daniels called Why I Believed. It's a book written by a former missionary who dealt with his doubts and slowly lost his faith. Many of you may know of the book Godless by ex-preacher Dan Barker that is written in a similar vein, but Barker wrote his book in a more confrontational tone, and his title alone would dissuade religious readers even before they'd opened it. Daniels' book (which I have not yet read, but I bought it for $0.99 on my Kindle) sounds like it's much softer when recounting his journey back to atheism. (I say "back" since we all start off as atheists.)

So ... What Does All of That Mean for This Blog?

Since this blog post is all about being honest with myself, I'll continue that streak by admitting that I likely won't tone down my rhetoric, despite what I've come to accept about my audience and my abilities to deconvert people. I simply enjoy writing the way that I do, and if I sway a few fence-sitters along the way, that would make me feel amazing and accomplished. I'm simply more of a Dawkins/Hitchens/Harris than I am a Harrison/Daniels man. I won't be breaking the spell of any Bible thumpers, but I'm honestly not sure anyone can. People with those kinds of blinders on simply need to take them off themselves (or at least loosen them a bit). They have to lead themselves to the light, so to speak, because they aren't yet looking for answers, they're looking for confirmation.

So, you'll be getting more of the same from me -- I hope that's all right!

-- The Atheist Apologist --


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