Atheists Just Can’t Win January 27, 2010

Atheists Just Can’t Win

Greta Christina has a few perfect examples of how being an atheist can often be a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t position:

When atheists focus our critiques on conservative or extremist religions, we get accused of ignoring the tolerant progressive ones, and lumping all religions together. But when we do criticize progressive or moderate religions, we’re accused of mean-spirited overkill, of alienating people who could be our allies.

When atheists criticize Christianity, we get accused of being cowards for not criticizing Islam. But when we criticize Islam, we get accused of cultural insensitivity.

When atheists attempt to present an organized, unified front, we get accused of being Stalinist group-think robots. But when we’re honest about disagreements among us, we get derided and dismissed for the supposed “schisms” that are supposedly dooming our movement to failure.

She goes into a lot of depth for each item, explaining why each is untrue and unfair.

It’s a must-read. As always, with Greta, it’s insightful and powerful writing.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Good post. So, honestly, how disappointed were you that you didn’t make the sexiest male atheist list? I applied twice and was snubbed both times and it haunts me.

  • Ron in Houston

    And then the theists criticize the atheists and the atheists cry and whine about how their being picked on and discriminated against.

    I guess its human nature to not like being criticized. So, we’re all damned if we do an damned if we don’t. Maybe it all boils down to what I learned in kindergarten – if you don’t have anything nice to say then don’t say anything.

    Meanwhile the world just keeps turning.

  • Jeremy

    I am very disappointed how any criticism of religion is immediately taken as bigotry. One of my friends recently lost a parent and mentioned it in a Facebook status. Most people commented with the usual condolences – in a better place, watching over you now, etc. – except for one man who went off about how she never went to church and her father could only rest peacefully if she accepted Jesus Christ in a long-winded, angry paragraph. All I said was that this wasn’t the time or place for evangelizing, and someone else said that I needed to be tolerant of other religions. WTF.

  • Ron, the only atheists I know of that “cry and whine about being discriminated against” are those that are actually being discriminated against, like the atheist that won office in North Carolina and people got all up in a funk; or in cases of social discrimination like http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=2782 where the community is largely against them.

    If our responses to our critics are construed as “whining”, then so be it, it’s whining if you want it to be. But what’s an argument but a bunch of people whining, if you want to go that route?

  • Luther

    This is why I try to avoid criticizing the Pastafarians. (Yet I notice the spell checker on this site does not like the word)

  • CatBallou

    I don’t think the first paragraph really presents a contradiction. When we get criticized for “ignoring” moderate religions, we aren’t being asked to criticize them. We’re being asked to recognize that they exist and aren’t as destructive as the extremist religions.
    (That latter point may be debatable, but it’s not the focus of the criticism.)

  • Ubi Dubium

    This is why I try to avoid criticizing the Pastafarians.

    Dang straight. Because we have cutlasses!

  • muggle

    Very well written, Greta.

    Cat, that doesn’t make sense because then they’re complaining that we’re not complaining about them. Maybe they just want to use us for publicity? lol

  • We, atheists have reason on our side. What they are doing is a fallacy (rare, isn’t it?) called Straw Man.

  • Pseudonym

    muggle, it does make sense, because the complaint isn’t that moderate religion isn’t being complained about, it’s just that non-fundamentalists don’t like being placed in the same category as fundamentalists. Whether or accurate or inaccurate, it’s more like “the majority isn’t like that, and you won’t acknowledge it”.

    Ron has a good point, which is that we ALL “just can’t win”. If moderate religion attacks fundamentalism in public, then it’s proof that the nature of religion is conflict. If it doesn’t, then it’s “providing cover” for the fundamentalists.

    It’s the nature of this type of public debate that some elements on all sides will inevitably act in bad faith and make charges which are irrational, unreasoned, spun and just plain wrong.

    The Grid of Disputation is a handy tool which may help solve part of the problem.

  • alex

    Why is there this assumption that atheists have to criticize religions or even respond to criticism? What is this, school playground where if you don’t prove your point, then you are a loser and no one will like you?

    Yes, to be fair, quite a few atheists are also anti-theists, that is, oppose religion. However, I suspect that many others could really give a damn about what kind of BS others believe in.

    Sometimes (and quite often) I wonder why I am not with the latter. After all, I don’t waste my time arguing with tinfoil hatters, flat earthers, PETA members, and anti-vaccination folk, why waste it on theists and their superstitions? Maybe just this desire to prove a point left over from school years…

  • Jenny Bliss

    ahh anyone who’s been in a long term relationship should see the intresting parrelell here, tis very similar to the way we ladies have screwed guys over for 1000s of years, making them no matter wat they do or say 1 way or the other out as the bad guy and the one in the wrong 😀 ahh wait thats our little secret, blank your minds!

  • Polly

    Seeing that my post has been lost/removed, I’ll post again. Because I think what I have to say is just oh-so-important.

    When atheists focus our critiques on conservative or extremist religions, we get accused of ignoring the tolerant progressive ones

    But when we do criticize progressive or moderate religions, we’re accused of mean-spirited overkill

    Waaah Waaah Waahh.

    NO ONE ever asked us to criticize moderate religion. There is no catch-22 here. Same goes for the rest of the piece.

    When we criticize Christianity, the Xians don’t like us. When we criticize Islam, the Muslims don’t like us. Makes sense to me. What the HELL is so unfair about that?

    There’s no crying in atheism.

  • duhsciple

    What if we all moved from criticizing to listening?

    What is the definition of “winning”? “Winning” the argument? “Winning” as “proving you’re smarter and more in touch with reality”?

    Possible alternative definitions…

    meeting people where they are instead of where you want them to be

    don’t kill each other

    respect each other

  • I agree with the points you all have made. Sometimes winning is walking away from the kind of folks who will fight a point with no proof.

    But the second someone finds out I am Atheist, the ‘damned if I do, damned if I don’t’ thing usually comes into play. If I am talking about nature or the wonders of the world, they take it offensively because they know I am not referencing their god. Or if I say something that can be taken spiritually or something sensitive about their faith, they automatically assume I can be talked into their beliefs… Anything that I say gets twisted.

    Before they knew I was an Atheist I was treated like a fellow human being, but when they become aware of my personal beliefs, I am treated like an ant at a picnic. So I can relate to being screwed either way. I deal with it and usually walk away, but I can understand how frustrating it is.

    I often have to keep my mouth closed when a religious person attacks me, because I know if I speak up, it will be taken as an attack on their soul or the fabric of their being. Where as if something offends me, it’s usually in the sense that I can’t believe the person who just said it is someone I thought was intelligent. I am usually a quiet Atheist.

  • James Probis

    I tend to believe that “moderate” religious people are liars. If they actually disagree with the hatred and violent bigotry promoted by their fellow travellers, they sure do make a point of keeping it to themselves. At least until someone actually affected by it speaks up, and then they only speak up to whine about how they “aren’t all like that.”

    “Waaaah! You’re so meeeeeeean to complain about it while our buddies curb stomp fags!”

  • duhsciple

    Whether you’re religious, spiritual, atheist, or agnostic– why don’t we at least learn this bottom line from the ancient traditions… LOVE ONE ANOTHER! Period.