I Hope I Have Become More Arrogant March 30, 2012

I Hope I Have Become More Arrogant

Richard Wade here.

I just got back from my trip to attend the Reason Rally and the American Atheists National Convention. Someone who knows that I’m an atheist was curious about what the speakers said, and their very first question was, “Were they arrogant?”

Arrogant. Of the several tens of thousands of adjectives in the English language, I was being asked, yet again, about this one adjective that some atheists have earned once in a while, but which is far more frequently tacked onto their noun as if it’s a grammatical error to leave it off.

“Why,” I asked, “are you asking if they were arrogant?”
“Well, because I’ve heard some atheists talk, and they were arrogant.”

I felt, along with the sensation of blood pressure rising in my neck and ears, a rising surge of indignation, exasperation, and anger. Then, without deliberation or forethought my reply came flowing out of me, softly and slowly at first, then steadily rising in volume and velocity until it was loud and fast at the end:

“Yes. They were arrogant. They were very arrogant. They had the arrogance to not just request, but to demand that they be given the same respectful treatment as civilized people give each other in general. They had the arrogance to not just request, but to demand that they be judged by their behavior rather than by their beliefs. They had the arrogance to not just request, but to demand that religious people who enjoy laws that protect them from discrimination not break those same laws by discriminating against atheists. They had the arrogance to not just request, but to demand that religious people honor the Constitution that guarantees their freedom only because it also guarantees the freedom of those who disagree with their views. They had the arrogance to not just request, but to demand that elected officials diligently represent the interests of all the people, not just those people who share the majority religion. They had the arrogance to not just request, but to demand that laws and public policy be guided by clear, rational thinking, and based on verifiable facts rather than on conveniently ambiguous passages written on animal skins thousands of years ago, and used only to serve the selfish interests of pandering politicians and their financial backers. They had the arrogance to not just request, but to demand that all women enjoy all the same rights and control of their personal lives as do men, in actual practice rather than just in theory, and that children be treated as human beings rather than as nothing more than investments in progeny, or the toys of exploitative clerics. They had the arrogance to not just request, but to demand that adult couples have the right to marry and to be recognized as legitimate families in society regardless of their gender, without any restrictions dictated by ignorant nomadic tribal chiefs long since turned to dust. In short, they had the arrogance to not just request, but to demand that all humans treat all other humans HUMANELY! Yes! they were very arrogant! Unashamedly, unapologetically, wonderfully, inspiringly, COURAGEOUSLY ARROGANT!
. . .

If any of that is going to be called “arrogant,” then I hope that a lot of it has rubbed off on me while I was among those thousands of atheists in Washington DC. If someone calls me “arrogant” because I have behaved like those atheists, then I shall feel deeply honored by the compliment.

But it wasn’t all deadly serious; much of it was simply great fun, and I really enjoyed seeing friends again, such as the dynamo known as Hemant: Hemant and Richard

I shared a hotel room and had several adventures with my good friend Daniel Fincke, (left) author of the brilliant Camels With Hammers. The only thing that matches the depth of Dan’s mind is the warmth of his heart. We enjoyed the Rally and the post-Rally dinner with Ed Brayton, (right) who writes the very popular Dispatches from the Culture Wars. Daniel and Ed

After meeting her in California last year, it was good to see the awesome Jen McCreight again, who writes the equally awesome Blag Hag: Jen McCreight

I got to meet the one and only PZ Myers, whose enormous readership at Pharyngula dominates much of the atheist blogosphere. He gave an excellent talk at the Convention about the incompatibility of science and religion. Hmmm. Shouldn’t he be wearing the black hat as the “bad atheist,” and I should have the white hat as the “good atheist”? PZ and Richard

On Sunday and Monday at the American Atheists National Conference I met the legendary Greta Christina, who was, as she always is, very warm and gracious. Her speech was as incisive and insightful as is the incomparable Greta Christina’s Blog: Greta and Richard

Finally, I was successful in finding Justin Vacula, who has taken up the challenge from my post, “Really, Really, Really Inoffensive Atheist Billboards,” and greatly improved on the idea by having an excellent bus ad designed with simply the word “Atheist.” on it. He submitted it to the publicly-funded bus company in his area, and they have refused to carry the ad. With the assistance of American Atheists, litigation is about to commence. You can read Justin’s well written installments about the ongoing controversy, which even includes threats to him by a bus driver, on Justin Vacula’s Blog. He and I enjoyed lunch together, and I was thoroughly impressed by his 100 mph mind, his broad interests, and of course his tenacity and courage. Justin and Richard

These are just a handful of the admirably “arrogant” people I had the privilege to meet and to hear. I hope that I can emulate just a small portion of their energy, their integrity, their determination, and their demanding, unrelenting compassion.

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  • Anonymous

    I guess its arrogant to call out arrogance. 

  • Anonymous

    You know what really pisses me off?  Being called arrogant for claiming to NOT know all the answers by someone who *claims* to have all the answers.

    It’s  amusing that the person who *claims* to have a *intimate* relationship with the *creator* of the universe who loves them beyond compare accuses *me* of having an exaggerated sense of self worth…..

    I’m sure there is a ironic punch line somewhere….

  • The punch line is the fact we’re still discovering new elements to this day, discovering more and more about our own planet each day, and probably are aware of so little in this ginormous universe (probably a near incalculable, ultra tiny decimal) and people can tell us there is a God because we don’t have all the answers, when there’s so much we haven’t discovered yet, and almost all of it out of our reach thus far. It’s a shame that I probably won’t be alive to see the day when science trumps religion (though only being 15 now, I’ve got a nice fighting chance).

  • Dbaker13

    This reminds me of that picture of the Milky Way floating around the Internet with the caption, “Atheism: The arrogant belief all the universe was made just for us.”

    Please. Most atheists are humbled by the sheer odds that we happened to exist at all. And we didn’t even need a dictator to command it.

  • I don’t call it arrogant, I call it whining.

  • Tainda

    What I call arrogance is believing your religion is the only religion.  I was just thinking about that this morning.  I heard a christian yesterday say that scientology was a cult made up by a mad man and had only been around for a little while so it can’t be true.

    Well, hate to tell ya but that’s exactly the way your religion started too.

  • Craigd

    Okay, where in blazes can I buy that WWBRD “Celestial Teapot” shirt!? I want to by a half-dozen!

  • Your arrogance is always so eloquent, Richard.  Thank you.

  • Anonymous

    Wait, what? I haven’t seen that one. That is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. Wouldn’t it be the exact opposite? Religiosity: The arrogant belief that the universe was made just for us?  

    I agree 100%. Every atheist I know admits that we are insignificant and inconsequential in the scale of the universe. It doesn’t care about us.

  • Rieux

    Good stuff, Richard.

  • Everyone who has ever spoken out on an issue is arrogant. The underlying assumption every time someone writes a blog post, gives a speech, or states their opinion without a prompt is that they are either smarter than everyone else or that they have some special, unique insight that others don’t have. If they didn’t think that their insight was a unique snowflake, special enough that everyone should know about it, then why would they exert effort in putting that insight out there in the first place?

    Once we get over that meaningless discussion, let’s debate ideas that actually matter (like the ones that these atheists “arrogantly” bring up). That way, we can both whittle out the bad (or godawful) ideas and figure out whose arrogance was actually justified.

  • Annie

    Beautifully said, Richard.  I was hoping to introduce myself to you at the Friendly Atheist/FTB dinner, but we arrived late and couldn’t find you after the dinner.  We did have a lovely time, though.  The other people at the table we joined were so warm and welcoming.  This was by no means a surprise, but a delightful confirmation.

  • FSq

    Dick, based on our interactions and the title of your post, it seems impossible for you to get any more arrogant.

    I liked your speech to the questioner, but no Dick, it is not possible for you to get more arrogant. You are already there buddy.

    And I do like the Bertrand Russell T-Shirt.

  • Yep, demanding equality and freedom for all people and Constitutionality for what elected officials do sure is pretty whiny.

  • Brian Pansky

     I saw the galaxyy caption that was:  “Atheism: The arrogant belief that the entire billion-galaxy universe was not created for us.”

  • Justin Miyundees

    “A true believer… must also claim to have at least an inkling of what that Supreme Being desires. I have been called arrogant in my time… but to claim that I am privy to the secrets of the universe and its creator — that’s beyond my conceit.”
    – Hitchens

  • Jack

    No one is discovering any new elements. Any elements that are being added or have been added in recent history are all synthetic and last for no longer than a blink of an eye. 

    So no, we are not discovering more elements to this day. Sorry.

  • Yeah.  “Quit WHINING while I’m stepping on you, you whiny whiners!”

  • I REALLY wish that I could rant as eloquently as Richard on no notice.  I guess maybe I’ll just have to try and practice more.

  • Jack

    Don’t one’s beliefs determine their character though as a generalization? Clearly we sometimes act “out of character”, but normally I think this is the case. 

    If I judge your actions (not one, but as a collection) then I would be judging your beliefs as well. 

    If you want to demand that I judge you by your behavior rather than your beliefs that can be easily done, but nothing much changes. As of late there has been a ton of cursing on this board. As a Christian I looked down upon and thought of as stupid or following blindly. If you want me to judge you on your actions…so be it. 

    If you demand that laws are determined by fact, then that can be done too. I believe in the protection of ALL human life, no matter what stage in development it is. From the earliest zygote to the elderly trying to hang on for one more breath, human life is in existence and should therefore be protected. I haven’t seen a science textbook yet that would disagree about when life exists. So why so many atheists saying that it is okay to kill and end human life?

  • Science and Religion are only incompatible because Science keeps disproving Religious claims.  If Science would stop being so arrogant and just trust Religion, we could all get along fine.

    Well, at so long as all the other religions would also stop being so arrogant and just trust The One True Religion.

  • You haven’t seen that because it isn’t exactly a valid question, to ask at what point life begins. Life is a gradual process. The start of that process begins at conception, yes, but you can’t say for certain when that process is finished.

    It’s much like baking a cake. If it takes 20 minutes to bake, can you say that it’s a cake at 19:59 minutes? Sure. Can you say it’s a cake after 1 second? Not at all. But the further away you go from the endpoints of the process, the harder it is to say for certain.

    It’s also the same for species. At which point did Homo Erectus evolve into Homo Sapiens? There is no clear, delineating division to which we can point and say, “There. That is the exact point at which H. Erectus instantly became H. Sapiens.”

    The problem comes when you try to make everything binary. It isn’t all ones and zeros; the process of life isn’t instantaneous.

    To further the analogy, if you take the batter out of the oven after a few seconds, have you destroyed a cake?

  • Yeah. Just like those in the suffrage movement were just whining when they should have just stayed in the damn kitchen. Those damn blacks were just whining when they should have enjoyed segregation and counted themselves lucky they weren’t lynched like some of the others. These gay people should stop whining and realize they don’t deserve equal treatment because their “choice” is an abomination.

    I don’t call the above arrogant. I call it downright stupid.

  • Anonymous

    “I believe in the protection of ALL human life, no matter what stage in development it is.”

    “For that matter, any masturbatory emissions, where the sperm is clearly
    not seeking an egg, could be termed reckless abandonment.
    ” –Elle

    Even dumb movies sometimes have applicable content….

  • Matt

    How elementary arrogant of you. “Elements” has more than one meaning, and I think you missed the elements of Alexander’s insightful comment. You may sense an element of sarcasm here.

  • Is it arrogant to think people who refuse to acknowledge reality are completely thick? Because if so, I’m arrogant. No, just arrogant. AAAARRROOOOGGGAAAANNNTTT.

  • Arrogant? I grew up with fundamentalists. I have known many, many religionists in my life. They are the last people to be calling anyone else arrogant. Something about logs and specks comes to mind! Oh dear, like the other commenter, I admit I do not know. they admit they do know and only they know. Arrogant?

  • In definition, a Synthetic Element “a chemical element too unstable to occur naturally here on Earth”. As well as there are two subdivisions of Synthetic elements. While the most recently created ones may not serve much express use right now, only time will tell if more will be discovered, perhaps more stable than the most recent. 

  • My only nit is the word ‘discover’.  Atomic theory predicts all elements.  It’s just a matter of actually getting that many protons and neutrons to stick together for even an extremely brief amount of time.  I think ‘synthesized’ would be more accurate. 

  • How arrogant of us to choose reality over assumptions.

  • Anonymous-Sam

    What about anti-hydrogen? I’d call it a new discovery, since it was only recently produced in a manner that we were able to observe it and confirm its existence outside of indirect effects.

  • Anonymous-Sam

    When they say “arrogant,” they mean “How can you be so arrogant as to claim God doesn’t exist, in the face of thousands of years of people blindly believing their elders?! You’re just one person, and you’re trying to contradict all those centuries of tradition and faith! Your arrogance will be your downfall, and God will strike you down as you so richly deserve!”

    And the atheist says “And I’m still here. Funny, that.”

  • Michelle

    I don’t think that “elements” in Alexander’s comment was literal at all.  

  • Anonymous

    Great post!  I have no problem being labelled as arrogant when you define it in the way you did.  I do find it highly offensive, as some other commenters have noted, when the religious accuse me of arrogance.  There are no people more arrogant than the religious.  They not only order their lives around superstition, they are 100% convinced is correct, they then expect the rest of us to follow suit.  Rubbish.  That doesn’t even scratch the surface of the hate and hurt that their arrogance leads to each and every day around the globe.

  • Richard, great post. I agree that it is with great irony that some religious people call atheists arrogant. I think they look at it as they (the religious) are being subservient to God and therefore relinquishing their self to the higher power. From this perspective, they feel that atheists, since they are not relinquishing their self to the higher power are being arrogant. Of course, from the atheist perspective, atheists are merely saying “I don’t believe” or perhaps “I don’t have any knowledge of deities so therefore adopt the null hypotheses that they don’t exist”. From the atheist perspective, the religious person (especially one who claims a personal relationship with God) is being arrogant that they know the mind of God or God has a plan and is guiding their life. The religious person doesn’t see themselves as arrogant because they are to close and vested in the religious mindset.
    I hope the meeting and in general this time in history is a watershed moment with atheism that more and more people can become comfortable in coming out to friends and family. Over time with more numerical gains, a lot of the “religious privilege” so prevalent in many parts of the country will start to wane.

  •  When I used to scuffle with the local Fundette in high school I’d usually end a statement with something like, “God strike me dead if I’m lying!”  She would actually cringe, waiting for a lightning bolt or something (I guess) to strike me down.  I would then snicker and say, “Funny, I’m still here!” and she’d storm off in a huff. 

    The sad part was that even after doing this many, many times, she never had the inclination in her mind to question.  Her eventual comeback was that “God” was keeping me on this Earth to “test [her] faith and love of Jesus.”

  • Her comeback was to imply that your continued existence was in service to her, but we’re the arrogant ones.

  • Oz Tilson

     It would be easy enough to make one. If you have no crafty inclinations yourself then you could take the image to any photo developer and they can put it onto any item you want. Have a whole set of coffee mugs, shirts, bags and notepads to make your point!

  • Even if we grant that a human cell is the same thing as a human person, since when does the right to life include the right to use another person’s body part(s) against that person’s will to survive?

    If my mom drives carelessly with me in the car and accidentally crashes, causing me an injury requiring a kidney transplant, that doesn’t give me the right to take one of hers.  Even though it’s her “fault” that I need a new kidney, and even though I need it to live, hr right to ownership of her own body parts comes first.

  •  Yup.

    Gotta love that (lack of) logic, eh?

  • Dbaker13

    That’s what it was! Sorry, I was exhausted when I wrote that comment.

  • It’s my own design. I drew the picture and had an online t-shirt company make it into shirts and a sweatshirt. It’s a good conversation starter. I tend to be shy in groups where I don’t know anyone, and several times while I was in DC, people asked me about it and started conversations. 

    I first drew it in a cartoon in this Ask Richard post:

  • I’m sorry we didn’t meet too, Annie. We sat at our table after dinner until the waiters told us they needed the room for another group. There were so many people there that it would be hard to find any particular person. However, I’m very glad that you had a good time, and that you felt welcomed. That was my continuing experience with the atheists for the whole weekend. Everyone was so positive and upbeat. There will be more opportunities; I hope we meet some day.

  • This has absolutely nothing to do with atheism. There are plenty of people who believe in the supernatural who also believe in a woman’s right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. There are millions of pro-choice Christians and Jews, so why not take your questions about abortion to them?

  • Aimee

    It is amazing you know,  that these folks enjoy the benefits of science every day and yet they find it necessary to be offended when it infringes upon their cherished “beliefs”  

  • Aimee

    Great post, thanks! 

    I did go to the Rally and I wish I had had the foresight to sign up for one of the after parties.   Next time!  Next time!

  • Anonymous

    I honestly can’t tell if you’re being serious or sarcastic…hmm, I’ll have to think on this.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve gotten pretty good at it in writing, not so much when it’s in person. When somebody says/asks me something ridiculous, it tends to make me speechless and just give them a weird look.

  • Anonymous

    How does using cursing make someone stupid or “following blindly?” Do you not realize how wonderfully versatile the word “fuck” is? Maybe you should read the substance of what somebody is saying instead of worrying about a particular word.

  • Anonymous

    Honestly, that was the best part of that movie. I fucking* loved it.

    *I’m only using that word now to try to desensitize our new friend 🙂

  • Anonymous

    This is the argument I use. It honestly doesn’t matter to me if the embryo inside me is counted as a person or not. It still doesn’t have the right to use my body against my will.

  • Peaceful and Tolerant

    I believe in God and you all don’t. That’s fine with me. I feel that I have enough evidence to substantiate my beliefs and I’m sure you feel that same way. The only thing that bothers me is when someone is attacked and called stupid and horrible filthy names for believing something different than they do. Whether Atheist to Theist or vice versa. I don’t rally to ban Atheism and I am a bit offended when I hear of people acting in such an oppressive way. I’m offended when people get angry because I believe in God and want to make it illegal for me to do so. I think there are probably an equal amount of fanatics on both sides.

    But I do know that it will happen. All religion will be ban in the not too distant future. There is a bible prophecy that foretells this. I’m sure you all think I’m a crazy ignorant  idiot and such but maybe you won’t when it happens.

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