21 July 2008

The Anti-Atheist Bigotry of Alex McRae

There's a little bit of a kerfuffle over Alex McRae's opinion piece over at the Times-Herald.com out of Georgia. What we have here is a high school level (at best) sample of writing accompanied by the thought-processes expected from a fifteen year old who wants to write for the school newspaper but disdains actually doing the research. Of course, it's fine to have an opinion, and really, McRae is well within his rights to have such a pathetically misinformed opinion, based entirely on his own personal misconceptions about the world (reality in general seems to be just one of his problems). But in the wonderfully long list of comments following his piece--the vast majority of them pro-atheist (a phenomenon I will happily attribute to the popularity of Atheist Revolution and Atheist Nexus)--have cried bigotry. The few dissenting voices among the crowd have claimed that atheists are bigoted against Christians all the time.

Well, first let's take a look at a few things McRae has written. Most are truly amazed that he seems to think we lack a sense of humor, and many have called him on that. This, I just don't care about, at least, not on the surface. What McRae is actually doing, in his ham-fisted sort of way, is bagging on atheists' outlook on existence. Let's see:
These two things may explain why you haven't seen or heard much about the most talked-about event on the 2008 secular calendar ... Atheist World.
Don't be alarmed. Atheist World isn't a new planet. It's a convention of people who don't believe in much of anything. Small crowds are expected.
Small crowds indeed. It might help Mr. McRae sleep better at night to think there are just a handful of godless misfits meandering around, but really, there are a lot more of us than he thinks. We are still a minority, but we are there (and growing), we are citizens of this country, we pay our taxes, and we deserve the same respect as any other group.
Apparently, atheists aren't fond of such frivolity. Guess it might imply they actually enjoyed life.
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Under the title "We Are Not" (which should be "What We Believe"), the brochure says, "An atheist is anyone who has no belief in any god, whether the god is called Jehovah, Satan, Vishnu, Allah, Loki, Zeus, or any other name. Therefore, atheists hold many varieties of social and political philosophies."

Or none.

- - -

But the more you read about this group, it seems like what they're most free of is a sense of humor. There's not a light moment on the agenda.

You wonder why. Here's an "enlightened" guess: Maybe atheists refuse to embrace laughter because they're afraid that one day they'll discover the joke's on them.

This goes well beyond merely saying we're no fun (by the way, he clearly didn't take a very good look at the agenda, which you can do here and see how patently wrong his is). The implication is that we have no joy, we are incapable of enjoying life. McRae perpetuates the misconception that atheists believe nothing--this is a fundamental and mind-boggling mistake to make. His attacking our humor is not merely that--it is an attack on atheism itself, the very concept. He is saying "See fellow Christians, see how hollow and dead they are. Stand warned, cling to your faith as a lifepreserver, or else you might end up like that." He might like to read the many, many accounts spread across the atheist blogosphere of atheists who have deconverted from religion and the immense freedom and joy they felt upon doing so.

Furthermore, how many times does one need to go over it? Athiesm. Not A-everything. No gods. In fact, I'll even say that while the AAI has every right to decide it's own guidelines, they are in fact wrong. Atheism is nothing more than the lack of belief in a god or gods. Their own claim that we all live our lives without the supernatural is just wrong. There are many atheists who believe in ghosts. I'm not one of them and in my opinion it is a failure of reason. But a proper definition is a proper definition and if McRae can just concentrate for a moment on that (focus, McRae, focus!), maybe he can understand that claiming we believe in nothing is a sign of grossly underdeveloped thinking. Many of us don't believe in anything supernatural, but it's important to point out that the supernatural doesn't encompass every possible concept. While Christians feel the need to waste their time occupying themselves with the supernatural as if it's the be-all, end-all of existence, atheists generally prefer to believe in reality and everything that goes with it, concrete and abstract--something far more applicable to our species' occupation of this little spot of humanity in a vast, unconcerned universe.

Of course, McRae is convinced we have no social and political philosophies. According to McRae, the atheist slouches around wallowing in the despair of his/her meaningless existence, with nothing to do but try not to cry too hard while he/she waits to die. Hence, no sense of humor.


Anyway, we could go on all day long about how obviously and sadly wrong McRae is--this man who apparently writes for a living, spouting off uninformed information to the public as 'opinion.' Yeah, opinion. As if that makes it okay. "It's just his opinion, it's no big deal," some have said. Yeah, well, some peoples' opinions are just plain factually wrong. The very least he could do was get his facts straight (I'm not even going to get into the corny draw of the well-used 'Hitler was an atheist' card) and then form an opinion. But that would be asking too much.

And, so what of our own hypocrisy? Yes, it's true. Many of us have been guilty of making sweeping generalizations about Christians, including myself. Vjack said it best when he said:

From time to time, I have been guilty of making generalizations about Christians in that I do not always say "some Christians" or "most Christians" and may mistakenly take the short cut of "Christians." ...
...I've also said again and again that most Christians are good people. Much of what they believe is both irrational and harmful to society; despite that, they are mostly good people with many redeeming qualities.

So, what's the difference then? I'll give you a couple, though I'm sure these can be supplemented.

Firstly, I hardly ever...ever...turn on the news, open up the paper, or see online that atheism has caused any serious damage in the world. But I am always and forever, every single day, confronted with religion wreaking havoc all over the planet and religious people inflicting pain and suffering on their fellow human beings, often in the name of their particular religious cause, many times despite their superior moral religious claims to satisfy their own personal desires. I'm talking every day, multiple times a day. It's everywhere. One can't swing a dead cat without hitting it. Now, if the face of this, is it any wonder that those of us without faith, without gods, tend to see religion and the religious in a particularly unfavorable light? The facts on the ground seem to be conditioning us to think that all religious people are, indeed, dangerous. It's a wrong thing to think--as vjack said, there are many good people who are also Christians. But the examples to the contrary are really quite overwhelming.

Now, on the other hand, like I said, I very rarely--to be honest, probably never--hear about atheists or atheism causing the kind of wholesale damage that religions and the religious do. Nothing in my memory is sticking out. For a moment, I wanted to give them Stalin, but that's not doesn't actually count either. What he did, he did completely separate of his atheism. His atrocities were entirely unconnected to his atheism. He was a bad man and he happened to also be an atheist, as opposed to, he was a bad man because he was an atheist. The point is that the religious have nothing on atheists except that their leaders tell them it's bad and we're bad (these are the same people feedig htem religion in the first place). They have no first-hand examples of this general badness so they're using their famously flawed reasoning to come to a false conclusion.

So, there's our excuse. What's yours?

Secondly, as many of the folks who commented rightfully pointed out, we are the most hated minority in the country (for no other reason that the above irrational misconception). Had this little diatribe been about blacks, gays, Asians, Hispanics, etc., etc., there would be no doubt as to its bigoted contents. But because we are so hated it doesn't matter. At this moment in time, we are an easy target. Which leads to my next and final point.

Some commentors said that we shouldn't give this idiot the time of day. That he is obviously not very bright and to give him attention is empowering him. Well, some might see it that way, as I'm sure he will (I can see it now: "See, no sense of humor. Those atheists are terrible, look how they came out en masse to attack me!"). However, I am a believer (pay attention McRae, I'm about to give you an example of something an atheist like myself might believe in) that people do these things, say these things, exactly because no one calls them on it. Some can argue that if you ignore them, they will go away. I would like to ask those people if they see the sweeping anti-atheist prejudice in the country going away? It's not, is it? In that case, I say that everytime we see an example of opinions like this being put out there, working to misinform others, we stomp that shit out like a use-up campfire. What does Smokey say: Only you can prevent forest fires. Only you. And only we can prevent the high and mighty religious majority from continuing enjoying the unfair privilege they've enjoyed for far too long. It's time to even the playing field, and that means forcing them to acknowledge our rightful equality as human beings and of citizens of this country. Say it loud, say it proud--we are godless. Get used to it.


  1. Well put.

    I think there's another difference...

    I noticed a few commenters saying the the whole 'you say mean things about religion, and religious people, so you're all bigots too'.

    I could be wrong, but when we criticise religion, we're talking about something they actually believe, and that we (with good reason, or so it seems to us) see as being a load of old crap. Pointing out that we find their beliefs to be crap, stupid even, is not bigotry: bigotry is when we attack members of a group for something that is not linked with membership of that group.

    If we were to say "black people are stupid", then that is bigotry. Saying "stupid people are stupid" is not.

    But of course it suits their agenda to have any criticism of religion categorised as bigotry, or even racism. We havo to keep an eye open for that.

  2. If we were to say "black people are stupid", then that is bigotry. Saying "stupid people are stupid" is not.

    Excellent point. Unfortunately, in this world 'stupid' seems to be relative, regardless that we have the facts on our side. This is why I think it's important to do whatever we can to erode the popular misconception that religion and the religious are untouchable purely by the fact of their religiosity.