Why Strident Atheists Don’t Bother Me

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created image of freak out on atheismIn the decades I’ve been involved in the atheist and Humanist movements, I’ve seen many “inner-party” battles over policy, plans, and actions. Many atheists I know are very vocal to the point they piss off many of my Humanist friends. So-called strident atheists never bothered me because of simple points I keep in mind that lowers my threshold of annoyance. I wish more in the freethought community would keep these hints in mind.

An example of the infighting I’ve seen inside the freethought community can read in an essay by American Humanist Association President David Niose:

As I looked out at all the young people cheering for Richard Dawkins and Tim Minchin, however, I also realized how important it is that humanism, and not just atheism, be part of this revolution. Indeed, for humanists, the success of the secular movement is only half the battle. After all, humanism is not just an arm of secularism, but a hybrid of the secular movement and the progressive movement.

If this seems difficult to understand, bear in mind that Karl Rove is reportedly an atheist, but he certainly would not find the American Humanist Association to be a comfortable fit for his worldview. Atheism, which addresses only the issue of the existence of gods, has no social, political, or economic philosophy, nor must an atheist reject all supernaturalism. An atheist might believe in astrology, ESP, magic, and of course, even worse, the conservative politics of Karl Rove (though thankfully most don’t).

For Humanists, the Secular Movement Is Only Half the Battle

I agree with Niose that Humanism is the better way to achieve progressive policy goals but I didn’t appreciate the painting of atheism as only having people like Karl Rove. I personally know some Humanists who are anti-abortion and anti-gay rights for example.

Humanism has many aspects that are progressive like having humans solve human problems and supporting economic justice but Humanism isn’t automatically progressive – it still takes progressively minded people to move it that way.

I also feel that one of the primary principles of Humanism is non-theism. You can be a believer and be a humanitarian but you can’t be a Humanist.

With that said I don’t see why there has to be any family conflict. I never look to see how my Humanism is better than my atheism or anyone’s non-belief. We only make up about 20% of the population so we need to work together on common goals and not let differences get in the way – like writing an essay on a public website saying how much better your philosophy is than your brother’s.

Here are 5 points I use to maximize my relationships in the freethought community (note I didn’t create these but I agree with the intent):

Don’t assume everyone shares my principles – Principles are facts that are known to be true and thus are non-negotiable

Don’t expect that everyone knows my convictions – Convictions are the unspoken statements we make by living our lives derived from principles.

Don’t force others to conform to your standards – Standards are the practical day-to-day living out of my convictions. It is at this level that tolerance of another’s views is introduced to the matter. Tolerance means simply accepting or allowing something NOT requiring approval and/or promotion of it.

Know the difference between your standards and your preferences – The end result of the same specific task given to two different people may look very much the same. However, the route taken to arrive at that end result may have been worlds apart. (Example: Two co-workers drive entirely different roads to arrive at the same restaurant after work.)

Keep your hangups to yourself – We all have them and we all need to get over them. This is where “you’re a big boy… deal with it comes into play. (Example: Genuinely arguing with the aforementioned co-worker that your route is by far the better way and “here are the 11 reasons why.”) Seriously… who really cares?

5 Keys To Making Molehills Out of Mountains

The last 3 points are the most important to me. I wish more people in the freethought community would adopt them so we would have less family squabbles.


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  • http://www.reason-being.com reasonbeing

    Great post Doug. This is my first time to your site. I agree with you completely. We need to work together to achieve goals in the political and social realms. The constant infighting does not move this forward. I think those five ideas you posted at the end are a solid basis on how we can view each others' opinions and ideas.

    • http://www.secularleft.us cadfile

      Thanks for stopping by. I'm glad I didn't scare you off… lol

  • sbj1964

    I agree Doug.At one time I was of the mind that atheist are more logical than the average christian.However I have met many atheist that even though they do not cotten to faith they have a lot of strange ideas about a lot of subjects from flat earthers to Moon landing deniers.I guess we are a diverse community.I have even met Republican Atheist like Karl Rove? I know,thats just weird.If we only had a book written thousands of years ago we could stop thinking for ourselves,and blindly follow the guy in the pointed hat.Happy Zombie Jesus day!

    • http://www.secularleft.us cadfile

      Yes it would be soooo easy – but what fun would it be then having to do it ourselves?

  • http://4enlightenment.blogspot.com/ rblevy

    Given that there are a myriad of viewpoints among atheists and humanists, I don't see how infighting can be avoided within and between each of these groups. That said, for the sake of harmony, I would try to seek comprise wherever possible if it can be done without sacrificing my core beliefs.
    My recent post Coping With Pesonal Tragedy: Two Perspectives

    • http://www.secularleft.us cadfile

      One of my rants is that some want to silence the other – as if having the other side around is mucking things up.

      I always feel that we should acknowledge we have differences and work on those issues we do agree on.

  • Jonathan

    I can't think of a social movement that didn't have divisions and infighting. We mainly see them as cohesive and united in retrospect. I think we make progress by conflict, so I'm not too worried about the arguments, as long as we're still listening to one another.
    My recent post De Botton’s Slippery Religious Yearnings