There’s a lesson from this. I shouldn’t blog while tired and ill.
For those of you who struggled through my last post, I apologise sincerely. I tried to wade through it this afternoon and realised that I could barely make heads and tails of it. There’s several different ideas going on all at once, and it hasn’t turned out well.
So to summarise what that last post should have said:
1. Andrew Lovley promotes a view of ‘accommodationism’ where atheists concentrate on shared values without analysing the underlying reason for the commonality of those values. Most atheists hold moral values which can only be justified through appeal to Judeo-Christian concepts of the world, but they render this basis invisible by saying that they are really secular values. We should do this, he says, because it’s a sign of maturity.
2. I think a proper sign of maturity is a distinctly atheist concept of the social project (atheism qua atheism). Contra Lovley, I don’t think we should focus on our similarities. I think we should stop trying to derive a secular culture from the overlap between our current beliefs.
3. The Key of Atheist also thinks that Lovley is incorrect, but for different reasons. The argument there is that Lovley views his accommodationism to be more or less mutually exclusive from more confrontational forms of activism. TKoA argues that they’re not mutually exclusive and can be instead mutually beneficial. TKoA links the atheist movement to the gay movement, stating that the two different forms of activism complemented each other.
4. I consider the confrontational forms of activism in the gay community are different to the confrontational forms of activism in the atheist community. Where the former caused confrontation by being openly gay, the atheist community isn’t causing confrontation by being openly atheist. Instead, atheists are being dicks and that’s a bad thing.
5. Also, unrelated to everything else, being confrontational by being dicks results in religious types clinging more tightly to their irrationality. Instead of attacking the belief, most of the dickish behaviour is attacking people’s sense of identity. Most atheists don’t see it that way because they don’t link religious belief to identity. It’s also why so many outspoken atheists run head first into racism regarding Islam.
That basically covers the major points I was making in a confused and unclear way. TKoA did me the great courtesy of trying to make sense of the ideas in my ramble and responding to them. I thought I’d focus on the biggest and most contentious point:
[Mark] neglects the genuine prejudice that still exists against atheists, and the difficulty that many existing communities have with recognizing any kind of secular identification. I’ve never had much difficulty myself, but I’ve spoken with enough activists from other backgrounds to know that I’m the exception. Black and First Nations atheists often have a very different story. Same goes for those from majority Muslim countries. Same again for white activists from predominantly religious areas of the United States and Canada.
The numbers are pretty clear. Many people report negative feelings about atheists, and a secular outlook is still all but a guarantee of total unelectability. Off the top of my head I think Pete Stark is the only openly atheist senator, and he wasn’t out until after his first election. Can we really dismiss an effort to address all of these problems as completely worthless? Again, it seems like such an extreme sentiment that I’m not entirely certain it was the intended one. Suffice to say I think atheist activism is worthwhile because it makes it easier for people to be atheist if they want to be, and of course they should have that right. [Source: The Key of Atheist: ‘In Which Somebody Disagrees With Me, I Think?’]
I don’t just neglect the prejudice towards atheists; I actively deny that it exists.
The study cited includes important points which are routinely overlooked.
[W]hile our study does shed light on questions of tolerance,we are more interested in what this symbolic boundary tells us about moral solidarity and cultural membership. We believe that attitudes toward atheists tell us more about American society and culture than about atheists themselves, and that our analysis sheds light on broader issues regarding the historic place of religion in underpinning moral order in the United States. [Source: http://www.soc.umn.edu/~hartmann/files/atheist%20as%20the%20other.pdf]
What we’re not seeing in society is atheists earning less than theists, for example. Atheists really aren’t an oppressed minority, despite what others have tried to claim. The survey that people keep citing was not looking at prejudice towards atheists: it was looking at how people delineate cultural membership.
Respondents had various interpretations of what atheists are like and what that label means. Those whom we interviewed view atheists in two different ways. Some people view atheists as problematic because they associate them with illegality, such as drug use and prostitution—that is, with immoral people who threaten respectable community from the lower end of the status hierarchy. Others saw atheists as rampant materialists and cultural elitists that threaten common values from above—the ostentatiously wealthy who make a lifestyle out of consumption or the cultural elites who think they know better than everyone else. [Ibid.]
The purely anecdotal part of this is that atheists like Dawkins, Hitchens, et al. made it more difficult for me to be open about my atheism. The moment I dropped the A-bomb, I’d be forced to distinguish my opinions and beliefs from those more prevalent. The toxic discourse from the Big Name Atheists — which, in historic terms, is remarkably extreme — is affecting the way the mainstream conceptualises atheists. It’s why it seems more socially appropriate to call oneself an agnostic instead of an atheist.