Civility, Negativity, and Atheism-as-Identity

Lately, this blog has been receiving a huge number of scornful, obscene, profanity-laden comments from anonymous atheists. I’ve been deleting the bulk of them without explanation. I toyed with the idea of writing an official comment policy (no swearing, hate speech, personal threats, saying mean things about my mother, etc.).

For now, though, I’m just going to post a short instructional video for those wishing NOT to have their comments continually deleted.

There was a time when this would have gotten under my skin (and probably drawn me into some of my infamously long debates in the comment threads). I also realize that I bring some of this upon myself by uttering occasional blasphemies against The Wise Atheistic Consensus Of The Internet and Modern ScienceTM.

But on a serious note, I feel a tremendous amount of compassion for these anonymous individuals. In my experience, this kind of rage often has a personal back-story.  (To quote GB Shaw, “The moment we want to believe something, we suddenly see all the arguments for it, and become blind to the arguments against it.”Setting aside the intellectual arguments for and against atheism, I think it’s monumentally tragic that anyone might be driven away from the Truth because of mistreatment at the hands of those who profess to be Christians.

I’m also reminded of a recent article that appeared in The Telegraph (from the perspective of an atheist):

“Surely there was a time when you could say to someone “I am an atheist” without them instantly assuming you were a smug, self-righteous loather of dumb hicks given to making pseudo-clever statements like, “Well, Leviticus also frowns upon having unkempt hair, did you know that?” Things are now so bad that I tend to keep my atheism to myself, and instead mumble something about being a very lapsed Catholic if I’m put on the spot, for fear that uttering the A-word will make people think I’m a Dawkins drone with a mammoth superiority complex and a hives-like allergy to nurses wearing crucifixes…

There’s even a website called Atheist Meme Base, whose most popular tags tell you everything you need to know about it and about the kind of people who borrow its memes to proselytise about godlessness to the ignorant: “indoctrination”, “Christians”, “funny”, “hell”, “misogyny”, “scumbag God”, “logic”. Atheists in the public sphere spend their every tragic waking hour doing little more than mocking the faithful…

The problem with today’s campaigning atheists is that they have turned their absence of belief in God into the be-all and end-all of their personality. Which is bizarre. Atheism merely signals what you don’t believe in, not what you do believe in. It’s a negative. And therefore, basing your entire worldview on it is bound to generate immense amounts of negativity…

Today’s atheism-as-identity is really about absolving oneself of the tough task of explaining what one is for, what one loves, what one has faith in, in favour of the far easier and fun pastime of saying what one is against and what one hates. An identity based on a nothing will inevitably be a quite hostile identity, sometimes viciously so, particularly towards opposite identities that are based on a something – in this case on a belief in God.”

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7 thoughts on “Civility, Negativity, and Atheism-as-Identity

  1. I am sad that you get these kinds of comments. These trolls have nothing better to do. The Internet is a wonderful communication tool, and they remind me of the playground bully who takes the ball and goes home. Keep up your good work.

  2. People (and not only some atheists) seem so truncated in their personalities these days. They take one aspect of their beliefs, appearance, or personality and expand it into a full-blown identity. One wonders if they go to the grocery store or have meaningful family lives. There are people so politicized that everything they do reeks of politics. As much as I support the pro-life movement, some people in that movement need to realize that their whole identity can become consumed in a movement at the expense of other important things in life.

    • gratiaetnatura,

      You make a fair point.

      Often we are told by the religious that their faith guides their whole life and informs everything they do. How is that not a truncated life?

      So there are many religious people that can’t help but bring faith to every sphere of their life. And this includes people of faith in public office. And so we have prayers in public meetings, and other privileges in government. And we have children who have their whole young lives steeped in religious indoctrination that suppresses free thinking and questioning.

      In that case it should not be surprising that some atheists have to spend much of their time countering this imbalance that is a product of the historical power of religion in everyone’s life. Religion’s domination of our lives has been so complete that it seems to come as a surprise to the religious that there might be critics of this domination.

      As an example of the continued domination of religion I think you will find many more blogs that are specifically religious than not, expressing the religiosity of the author, even if the blog isn’t specifically about religion.

      Here’s a test. Start with an atheist blog (e.g.
      http://atheistblogroll.blogspot.co.uk/) on blogspot (the google blogging system), and click the Next Blog link at the top. Repeat the clicking of that link. How many predominantly religious blogs do you come across as opposed to atheist ones?

      The number of religious websites and blogs promoting religion far outweigh those of atheists. Newspapers radio and television have for a long time had special sections and programmes dedicated specifically to religion, rather than to philosophy generally. On the BBC the Thought for the Day has always been about religion and many of the listeners have been vehemently opposed to a more general programme that might include thoughts from non-believers. US TV is full of channels dedicated to religion. Religion is a big powerful business.

      It is in this existing biased context that atheism has started to become more outspoken. So it’s all a bit whiny to hear the religious complaining because a still small number of atheists are challenging the oppression, persecution, privilege, when religion has been and still is so explicitly shoved down our throats.

    • In the UK religion has privileges that give religious opinion greater political force than it otherwise would have. In the US there is a continuous battle to keep religion out of science classes. And do we really need to get into the extent to which Islam forces its way into peopes lives: http://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/397082/Met-police-chief-orders-investigation-after-death-threats-made-to-Bangladeshi-activists

      Ralph,

      With regard to this blog, I oppose many of the things Matt posts that impact on lives of people other than the religious, and for this specific post it was about atheists so why should I not respond?

      As theists are quick to point out, the majority of people on earth seem to believe in some god or other, in some unsupported magic of one form or another. In what way could my life not be impacted by that fact? In what way can having religion rammed down my throat be avoided? Why would I not want to respond to that?

      It’s also worth point out the different motives that might drive some atheist to comment about religion. Atheists may be making more than one point simultaneously. First, as a secularist I support freedom of personal belief. Second, I would make moral arguments against some aspects of religion. Third, I would make intellectual and practical arguments against religious belief based on faith.

      This means, for example, that I’m happy to affiliate myself with religious secularists that also support the freedom of personal belief and the separation of religion and state. But I might disagree morally with such theists, for example if they oppose gay marriage. And I’d be happy to argue with them about their actual beliefs without any moral implications at all. On this blog I tend to be motivated by the second and third points.

  3. I didn’t mention it before, Ron Murphy, but I should compliment you on posting under your own name. If more people did so rather than under the cloak of anonymity, the Internet would be a more civil place.

    As for religion, atheism is always going to be a minority position, so you’re going to have to reconcile yourself to seeing more from a religious perspective than from an atheist one. Here are two links that show why:
    http://search.dilbert.com/search?day1=19&mth1=08&yr1=2013&day2=19&mth2=08&yr2=2013&x=72&y=17
    http://chronicle.com/article/Jerry-A-Coyne/131165/

    I can’t prove there is a God, you can’t prove there isn’t. So we’re both going to have to decide based on whatever evidence we can find. And while my subjective experience might not count as evidence for you, and vice versa, I know that I am not a robot. I am not totally controlled by natural causes (including random ones), as I would be if as Carl Sagan said, “The Cosmos is all that is or was or ever will be.”

    I tried atheism. It didn’t work for me. I am way better off now with Jesus Christ than if I had kept on the way I was going.

  4. Ralph,

    Yes, the Dilbert comic does express the neediness for the certainties of religion that coincides with your own expression of the preference. But that some might prefer or feel more comfortable with belief is not supportive of the truth of what is believed. I’d like many things that are not possible or unlikely. But simply believing they will come about is not enough.

    Most atheists are quite comfortable with living the illusions that nature has pushed us into. There is no support for the dualism of the soul or mind that is supposed to give us free will. But that a biological entity feels as though it has free will is quite straight forward. Just as with visual illusions we can experience apparent free will while intellectually knowing we don’t have it. That free will is an illusion does not stop the brain being convinced it has it. The best way to look at free will is as a model of reality. It remains a useful model becausecwe cannot switch off the feeling. We know the atoms of our bodies are mostly empty space, but the illusion that we are not is one we have evolved to perceive. No problem.

    We have no problem with there being no discernable purpose to the universe. It seems to be a vast mechanistic system. All science supports this. Only personal imaginative speculations cause us to concoct the many contradictory religions, astrology, alternative medicine efficacy. And personal subjective experience convinces us of all sorts of illusions that intellectually we know to be false.

    “I am not totally controlled by natural causes ” – How precisely do you know that?

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