A Response to Concerned Believers March 25, 2010

A Response to Concerned Believers

To all those religious people who tell us that atheists are offensive because we try to convince others our beliefs are more reasonable than theirs, or to the religious people who advise us to respect their beliefs simply because so many people hold them, or to the “progressive” religious people who tell us not to lump their faith in with that of the fundies when we criticize religion, Greta Christina has a response for you:

It is difficult to avoid the observation that, whenever believers give advice to atheists on how to run our movement, it is always in the direction of telling us to be more quiet, to tone it down, to be less confrontational and less visible. I have yet to see a believer advise the atheist movement to speak up more loudly and more passionately; to make our arguments more compelling and more unanswerable; to get in people’s faces more about delicate and thorny issues that they don’t want to think about; to not be afraid of offending people if we think we’re right. I have received a great deal of advice from believers on how atheists should run our movement… and it is always, always, always in the direction of politely suggesting that we shut up.

(via Greta Christina’s Blog)

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  • muggle

    Absolutely! Keep telling it like it is, Greta.

    And while asking us to be nice about it, they are rudely telling us to bow to their religious practice. Keep quiet for prayers out of respect. Stop making such a big deal out of in god we trust on the money and in the pledge. etc., etc., etc.

    It’s just a round-about-way of saying that tired old choose your battles. To which I say, you’re only telling me to choose your battles. You say that because you don’t like the one I chose.

  • Canadiannalberta

    Well said!

  • Tim

    Yeah, funny, innit? It always reminds me of the gay rights movement. That common statement back in the 70’s – “I don’t care who someone sleeps with… but why do they have to be so blatant?” We really do have a ways to go.

  • Michael

    I actually believe that their advice stems from the fact that they, Christians, are expected to serve, bow down, and not ask too many questions. Even in the face of priests raping their children!

  • Roxane

    Tim–it goes back farther than that. “Be more polite, show us how patient you can be, respect the fact that people aren’t ready to grant you your rights” is exactly what they said to Martin Luther King.

    Michael–you’re brilliant. It comes to this: you are supposed to be submissive. We gave that up, not only for Lent, but for all time.

  • plublesnork

    This post reminded me of a post I recently read over on Shakesville.

    http://shakespearessister.blogspot.com/2009/09/on-real-christians-and-christian.html

    It’s a great read, along with most stuff Melissa writes.

  • rob d

    im not polite are patient, religion is the worst thing mankind has ever invented. i am very quick to tell people how ridiculous their beliefs are and i hope more non believers start doing the same.

  • Ed

    It’s just a round-about-way of saying that tired old choose your battles. To which I say, you’re only telling me to choose your battles. You say that because you don’t like the one I chose.

    Well said.

    I also really like the way Valhar2000 puts it in the comments to Greta’s post:

    Well, I suspect it could be sincere. What they are actually giving advice on is “how to make me dislike you less”, and it is not surprising that the answer to that question is often “hide and make sure I never see or hear from you again”. Absolutely sincere, if completely abhorrent to us.

    I think being clear on what causes the most harm in any given situation and the best way to motivate ourselves and others to end that harm matters a great deal. Sometimes argument, humor, sarcasm or encouragement may be the best approach- it is a matter of finding and using the appropriate tool in the moment. Sometimes we as individuals will have differences of opinion on what the best tool is or on what is the most harmful, but Greta makes a strong point that atheism is on the rise, our books are selling quite well and we are gaining visibility. Clearly the many approaches we are collectively taking are working.

  • Ed

    plublesnork, that Shakesville post you linked is stunning!

  • noah

    rob d said: “i am very quick to tell people how ridiculous their beliefs are and i hope more non believers start doing the same.”

    –this attitude is what causes believers, and many atheists and agnostics, to say atheists should tone it down. People with attitudes like rob d’s only get through to the people who already agree with them. There’s at least a hint of irony in the fact that rob d can succeed only in “preaching to the choir.”

  • Richard P.

    This is exactly as it should be. If I was holding onto ridiculous unprovable beliefs I would tell you to sit down and shut up too.
    Really, should we even expect any less?

    What I find really bizarre is when atheists do the same thing.

    I understand treating people with respect, but I also understand the need to only give respect to those who deserve it.

    My belief in a fairy godmother does not warrant me to be treated respectfully regardless of how passionately I believe in her or if I con a bunch of people to believe in her with me.

    We need to recognize that we will each have opinions of how it is best to deliver a message. To stomp on those that cannot treat the delusion of religion with respect it simply validating the delusional beliefs. The beliefs need to be mocked and ridiculed for what they are. People should be embarrassed for holding those beliefs and be offended. The more offended they are will help them to see the ridiculousness of their beliefs, hopefully. If they refuse to see it, then they are deserving of the ridicule.
    If people don’t like it to damn bad. If they want to pussy foot around the truth that’s their prerogative, just like delusional thinking is the prerogative of the religious. But not everyone needs to see it that way.

  • Hammurabi

    Damn straight!

  • Aj

    I’d love to hear what these same people would say to Thomas Paine, Martin Luther King Jr., and Emmeline Pankhurst. “Tone it down, you’re being too strident!” People did, concern trolling is old.

  • Pseudonym

    I have to wonder if there might be some observer bias going on here. I do hear a lot of fundamentalists saying that atheists should be quiet (mostly because I read this blog; I probably wouldn’t hear anything that fundamentalists say if it wasn’t for FA).

    However, I also hear a lot of progressives calling for atheists to come up with a more positive message. I can see how that might be interpreted as “tone it down”, especially if you see negativity as a central part of your message. But there’s a subtext of “make it easy for us to work with you”.

    It’s not a consistent message, but it’s there.

  • spink

    I think that many religious people are afraid to have their beliefs challenged because they realize that they are clinging to an antiquated, illogical and flimsy set of beliefs. By asking atheists to shut up, they are trying to protect their own precious delusions.

  • Ed

    Many of you no doubt have already read this but it may be new to some and it is well worth the read. Atheists, Show Some Respect!

  • CJ :)

    I fail to see why this is such a revelation. What movement encourages its opposition? What are they going to do – stand up and wave a flag for us?

    I dunno – maybe I’m just a terminal cynic, but this doesn’t strike me as particularly earth shattering news.

  • The religious demand respect based solely on the fact that they believe in a bronze-age myth, and show ZERO respect for others. The second someone dishes their shit back at them, they whinge about “persecution” — bloody hypocrites.

  • Autumnal Harvest

    Yes, those theists are pretty bad. I, on the other hand, am totally different. I always encourage people I disagree with to be more vocal and strident about their message. I can’t count the number of times that I’ve asked Christians to be more aggressive about proselytizing.

  • Wielki Bezboznik

    The hypocrisy of theists is rather transparent: they want our tolerance of them, but they never show any tolerance towards us, only venom and derision. IF you want tolerance, then show some first, since you’re in the position of power, the majority.

  • The way I see it – Christians (and any religious people) have a genuine responsibility to tell you that you’re going to hell – if they really believe it.

    You, atheists, have the same responsibility to tell us that we’re possibly wasting the one life we get pursuing a possibly imaginary relationship with a possibly imaginary friend.

    What doesn’t need to occur on either side of the coin is ad hominem nastiness – while I’m sure this cuts both ways (and people on either side are rightly passionate about the issue) there is just no need for you to play the man, not the ball, when it comes to this debate. And this, in my experience, is what happens every time a Christian says something you disagree with on the Internet.

  • Jeffcia

    plublesnork, that Shakesville post you linked is stunning! 🙁 It seems to have been taken down. Any alternate sites with this post??

    Thanks

  • Sue D. Nymme

    And how often do atheists tell Christians and other theists that they should speak up more loudly and passionately?

    This blog, for example, frequently exhorts theists to tone down their public side, to quit being so “in your face”, to be quiet and keep their religious views to themselves.

  • Ron in Houston

    Is it just me or is there a double standard at work here?

    Greta does not want to be told what to believe or how to behave, but apparently feels that it’s acceptable when she does it.

  • andrew

    I am a Christian and I love this site because many of you freely speak your mind and say fresh stuff that I won’t hear in other places. I get bored with Christians, or people of any faith, who are passive and unintellectual about their beliefs. So, from where I am I would always encourage Atheists to speak their minds.

    I lead a Youth Group and some of my students don’t believe in God. We love having them because we have discussions for hours about faith and everyone gets to speak their mind and question anything they want. I’ve been doing it that way for years. Please don’t be tempted to silence your beliefs, because there are a handful of Christians out there who really want to hear what you have to say. That’s why I love this site.

  • My favorite Greta Christina post, something I carry around with me for rereading and referral, breaks down the various arguments believers use in order to get us to shut up. It’s great fun when you actually see their arguments, refer to the list and say “Uh huh. That’s a number 4.”
    Shut Up, That’s Why

  • Mike

    To all those religious people who tell us that atheists are offensive because we try to convince others our beliefs are more reasonable than theirs

    *Facepalm*

    Trying to “convince others our beliefs are more reasonable [or truer] than theirs” is exactly what it means to proselytize. Why is it only offensive when done by atheists?

  • Greg

    I don’t know many atheists who tell Christians (or theists in general) to stop being so openly Christian (or theistic). I’m not completely sure what Ron and Sue are talking about. If you look at the so-called ‘New Atheists’, they concentrate almost solely upon the way that religion impacts people other than the believer. These are the people theists want to shut up. You know, the people that want to discuss the subject.

    Unfortunately, some theists seem to believe that if you stop them forcing their beliefs upon people, killing kids by praying for them rather than treating them, or trying to take over the world, then you are infringing upon their rights. These, of course, are the people these atheists want to shut up. There really is no comparison. Seriously now.

  • Aj

    Pseudonym,

    However, I also hear a lot of progressives calling for atheists to come up with a more positive message. I can see how that might be interpreted as “tone it down”, especially if you see negativity as a central part of your message.

    It’s wordplay, it’s framing. The message is for reason and science. Improvement, reliable knowledge, well being. Very positive. Calling negativity a central part of a message is meaningless nonsense. Not surprising coming from the religious.

    Nathan,

    You, atheists, have the same responsibility to tell us that we’re possibly almost certainly wasting the one life we get pursuing a possibly an almost certainly imaginary relationship with a possibly an almost certainly imaginary friend.

    FTFY.

  • kat

    from what i remember of being a christian, there’s a whole persecution complex wherein you’re taught to believe that people want you to shut up about being a christian. just look at the people who wear shirts that say, or post on their facebook page, something along the lines of “i am not ashamed of the gospel of christ” yadda yadda. christians are taught that everyone is out to get you for your beliefs and to make you disbelieve!!! obviously, this is ironic, as most of the people in this country claims to be christian in some sense or another. of course, i do remember being asked to tone down my christianity in high school, even though i wasn’t particularly proselytizing (from what i remember, i never told anyone they were going to hell), and some of my biggest critics were also people who said they were christians. i think anytime anyone holds a strong belief and is ready to talk loudly about it in public (or wear the tee shirt, or talk about it on facebook), they’re going to get told to tone it down.

  • Here is why I find the atheist evangelism offensive:

    http://thoughtfulfaith.wordpress.com/2010/01/17/face-of-the-new-atheism/

    Atheists search out a prayer forum, suggested that Christians should kill themselves, posted pornographic images on a prayer forum, and impersonated my friend, a woman whose ex-husband has just died as saying “Celebrate screwing corpses”.

    Perhaps it is simply the case that we have all missed the mark.

  • the best part about this statement is its truth value doesn’t change if you just swap out ‘atheists’ for ‘believers’ and vice-versa:

    “It is difficult to avoid the observation that, whenever atheists give advice to believers on how to communicate their beliefs, it is always in the direction of telling them to be more quiet, to tone it down, to be less confrontational and less visible. I have yet to see an atheist advise the believers to speak up more loudly and more passionately; to make their arguments more compelling and more unanswerable; to get in people’s faces more about delicate and thorny issues that atheists don’t want to think about; to not be afraid of offending people if they think they’re right. Believers have received a great deal of advice from atheists on how they should behave… and it is always, always, always in the direction of politely suggesting that they shut up.”

  • I really love how it’s somehow a terrible, if not horrific, thing for non-believers to express their non-belief and even to encourage others not to believe, yet it’s just fine for believers to go around pushing their religion on others … in the forms (e.g.) of missionary activity and using government coercion to force others to believe.

  • Vas

    Wow Chucky,
    That was a bunch of posters from Criagslist in Australia. We don’t even know if they are atheists, heck lot’s o people have a beef with Christianity. They seem like typical internet flamers to me, they could very well attack any forum as they often do. Bashing Christians may only be occurring because it was a Christian forum and it could have been just as rank if their target was beany baby collectors or dungeons and dragons players or any group they thought was up to stupid shit. That was some pretty weak sauce Chucky and doesn’t really justify speculating that we ALL missed the mark. I’m not going to sit down and shut up because you point to some Australian flamers and say they are mean people. Even if they were atheists,(again something not in evidence)and they were our problem, it still pales in comparison to denying others their civil rights, policy that fosters the spread of deadly diseases, having sex with children or a host of other atrocities Christianity is directly responsible for and is directly supported by the tithes and other donations of “good people”. On the whole even with the flames of a few we are still better people as a group by a long shot. And as an aside, really prayer requests on Craigslist are beyond pathetic, it’s like having a kick me sign on your back, and self applied no less, is it really so surprising that it attracted trolls?

  • Aj

    Chucky,

    They are encouraged by people like Dawkins and Harris not only to despise Christianity, but also to disrespect Christians.

    Dawkins and Harris don’t encourage abuse of Christians, or disrespect of Christians. Your accusations against Dawkins and Harris are pathetic lies. There’s no connection between those internet trolls and Harris or Dawkins. You want to smear them and other atheists like that? You’re not better than those trolls. Go away troll.

  • Aj,

    Dawkins and Harris encourage the disrespect of Christians by disrespecting Christians. Even if they don’t say “I command you to disrespect Christians” they tacitly endorse this behaviour by referring to Christianity as an evil delusion.

    Vas,

    Even if they were atheists,(again something not in evidence)and they were our problem, it still pales in comparison to denying others their civil rights, policy that fosters the spread of deadly diseases, having sex with children or a host of other atrocities Christianity is directly responsible for and is directly supported by the tithes and other donations of “good people”.

    I do not think Christianity means what you think it means. None of these behaviours are “Christian” but they are carried out by Christians – in the same way that flaming Christians is not “atheist”… but is carried out by some atheists.

  • AxeGrrl

    Nathan wrote:

    Dawkins and Harris encourage the disrespect of Christians by disrespecting Christians. Even if they don’t say “I command you to disrespect Christians” they tacitly endorse this behaviour by referring to Christianity as an evil delusion.

    As someone on another discussion board said so sagely:

    We all have beliefs. That’s not the problem. The problem comes when we construct a personal identity out of our beliefs. Then we tend to feel personally threatened when others oppose or attack our beliefs.

    No matter how ‘committed’ one feels to their beliefs, those beliefs aren’t ‘them’. Beliefs and the people who subscribe to them are not one and the same.

    Trying to protect one’s beliefs from scrutiny by suggesting that ‘criticizing my beliefs is like criticizing me’ is a dishonest and dangerous tactic ~ EVERY belief/idea should be open to scrutiny.

    Remember, ‘you’ aren’t your beliefs.

  • > Dawkins and Harris don’t encourage abuse of Christians, or disrespect of Christians.

    Really? On his own website Dawkins writes:

    “Michael Shermer, Michael Ruse, Eugenie Scott and others are probably right that contemptuous ridicule is not an expedient way to change the minds of those who are deeply religious. But I think we should probably abandon the irremediably religious precisely because that is what they are – irremediable. I am more interested in the fence-sitters who haven’t really considered the question very long or very carefully. And I think that they are likely to be swayed by a display of naked contempt. Nobody likes to be laughed at. Nobody wants to be the butt of contempt.”

    http://richarddawkins.net/articles/3767#368197

  • Aj

    Nathan,

    Dawkins and Harris encourage the disrespect of Christians by disrespecting Christians. Even if they don’t say “I command you to disrespect Christians” they tacitly endorse this behaviour by referring to Christianity as an evil delusion.

    Your beliefs don’t deserve respect, I’m sorry. If you have ridiculous beliefs, that’s not anyone else’s problem. Disrespecting someone’s beliefs is not the same as disrespecting someone.

    Are you seriously suggesting that Dawkins has ever suggested impersonating someone and writing that they were fucking their recently dead husband is OK? That’s ignorant, bigoted, and insane. Not that you people give a shit, that you’re misrepresenting people in such an egregious and insulting way. That’s just how you people roll.

    Chucky,

    Really? On his own website Dawkins writes:

    Again, you’re a liar. Read the whole comment, instead of quote mining, finding something to take out of context, then spread it about to smear someone.

    Another paragraph from the same comment:

    I emphatically don’t mean we should use foul-mouthed rants. Nor should we raise our voices and shout at them: let’s have no D’Souzereignty here. Instead, what we need is sarcastic, cutting wit. A good model might be Peter Medawar, who would never dream of shouting, but instead quietly wielded the rapier. Look, for instance, at almost any sentence in his magnificent review of Teilhard de Chardin’s pretentious Phenomenon of Man. It is reprinted in Pluto’s Republic or you can find it here:-
    http://www.cscs.umich.edu/~crshalizi/Medawar/phenomenon-of-man.html

    He clearly is not saying that anyone should do what those people did on the forum you mentioned. Yet for some reason you feel it is right to misrepresent him. You are no better than the trolls that you complain about. It’s pathetic, people aren’t going to just take your word for it and not read the whole comment, you’ve already shown your dishonesty. Any more quotes out of context or farcical misrepresentation, have you finished trolling and lying for Jesus?

  • AxeGrrl,

    Which is all very good – but then I’ve got to ask – what are you doing participating in this forum if atheism is not a core part of your identity? Why not stick with a forum about something you identify with?

    I’d say religion (or lack thereof) is naturally a pillar of identity. And probably sociologically more significant than most others because it is by choice not by birth.

  • AxeGrrl

    Nathan wrote:

    AxeGrrl,

    Which is all very good – but then I’ve got to ask – what are you doing participating in this forum if atheism is not a core part of your identity? Why not stick with a forum about something you identify with?

    I’d say religion (or lack thereof) is naturally a pillar of identity. And probably sociologically more significant than most others because it is by choice not by birth.

    Why am I participating in this forum if atheism ‘is not a core part of my identity’? because I am an atheist and therefore, I do identify. ‘Atheist’ is a descriptor of where I stand on the god(s) issue, but it’s not me. If/when other people criticize certain actions/ideas espoused by the ‘atheism community’, I listen to those criticisms and see if they’re valid ~ if they are, great, I’ve just learned something. If they’re not, I try to participate in the conversation and express why I think they’re not valid.

    Trust me, I’ve participated in many message boards where someone would say “atheism is a morally bankrupt worldview”. What did I do? I simply gave a response to explain why that simply isn’t true. But see Nathan, the person was being critical of a worldview, they weren’t criticising me personally. And that’s the bottom line when it comes to criticisms of beliefs.

  • AxeGrrl

    To add one more thing….

    I wouldn’t dream of trying to restrict others’ criticisms of atheism by saying ‘my atheism IS my identity, so please stop insulting it. You’re being a religious bigot’.

    Again, I say: all viewpoints/beliefs/values must be open to scrutiny ~ it’s vitally important that we do not ‘protect’ them simply because some people incorporate those viewpoints as part of their ‘core identity’.

  • Aj

    Nathan,

    I’d say religion (or lack thereof) is naturally a pillar of identity. And probably sociologically more significant than most others because it is by choice not by birth.

    To you it might be your god we don’t believe in, but for us it’s one god of many we don’t believe in. I also don’t believe in ghosts, fairies, or alien abductions. There’s so many things I don’t believe in, that to pick out one thing and say it’s a “pillar” of my identity is nonsense.

    Does a map displaying religion membership look like it’s a choice? If two parents are religious, what religion is their child going to be? You seriously think you just happened to choose Christianity instead of Shinto? Religion is spread through childhood indoctrination and coercion. The two most successful religions were both tied to successful empires, that spread through warfare.

  • Too true, too true.

  • jose

    I’ve been told a few times to speak loudly by “progressive believers”… but not against religion, but against muslims, or against mormons, or against creationism– or anyone except them.

  • Greg

    I’d never tell someone to shut up but…

    I have a friend who became an Athiest, or came out what have you, about a year ago.
    Ever since, our weekends became nothing but hearing tirades against religion and loudly arguing about that stuff.

    Now, we live in Canada which is a secular oountry, so it seemed like an odd behaviour. We encouraged him to talk about science, political issues and others that concerned him but it always zeroed down on calling religious people stupid, getting really angry and generally not making it fun for the rest of our group.

    Our group has two atheists (him and another more mild one, I guess) an agnostic, a Christian and a Muslim. The religionists never bring up their religion either.

    That’s the frustrating part…going to see Harry Potter and hearing him go: “Science would help them, there IS no magic, it’s nonsense!” then being asked to leave…

  • Personally, I am glad to hear from inquiring people and not from know-it-alls. I have something to report that I’ve been trying to get in front of the public eye for over 15 years now. My webpage tells about this idea and if you search a new word I use: girasas, you will find additional information.

    People really don’t want to hear me talk about this: not religious people, not scientific people, not the people in the organizations I learned it from even. It is quite radical and perhaps this is why there are some who have asked you to tone down your confrontation of them.

    It involves a higher kingdom (girasas) invading the human kingdom and it is presented as a natural stage in our evolution. We likewise invaded or descended into the bodies of evolving animals and when we did this, the e. animals themselves left earth because, guess what? The idea is that only 1 evolving kingdom is suitable for earth at a time. The rest of the lives on earth are said to be i. animals, i. plants, i. lifeforms (involving). But only while we are here. There are still e. plants that evolve on earth prior to the arrival of the e. animals.

    I’m sorry if this doesn’t make sense to you. I studied for 20 years before I made the discovery of this idea in the literature of The Theosophical Society and The Saint Germain Foundation. Many people don’t have an opportunity to learn these ideas because the organizations are a bit secretive (i.e., THE SECRET DOCTRINE for a book title).

    I’m trying to tell others because it will help them to better make decisions. You can still be a 4th subrace (no other e. kingdom present in your thinking process) or a 1st-3rd subrace even (concern for our descent into animals being a motivation for study). But the 5th-7th subraces involve meeting, acting, and parting with the higher girasas kingdom and that is why religious people are a bit nervous about their prospects and acceptance among their fellow human beings. What can we possibly know about a higher kingdom other than what they tell us or show us? It is a difficult endeavor and some people have failed at successfully loving the girasas and preparing for them. It hurts a lot to be so rejected.

  • matthew

    this whole discussion brings together the most distasful elements of the religious and the non religious. two groups of fundamentalists whacking away at each other. don’t give me the line that either is smarter than the other. dawkins is smart and hates religion. do you reckon there might be a few around who are just as smart as dawkins and profess to believe. this whole thing lacks nuance