Recently I got into a discussion on Facebook regarding a video made by the internet personality known as “TheAmazingAtheist.”
Let me preface all of this by saying that everything I say here is merely my opinion of the situation as it is. It is not, for lack of a better phrase, “gospel truth.” So please take what I say as nothing more than my personal opinion. Some of you will agree; some of you will disagree. Let’s see if we can do the latter in a respectful manner.
Now, personally, I do not agree with “The Amazing Atheist” or his style. I’m annoyed by him and his videos. To me he’s insulting, overly-opinionated, rude, and has a voice that makes me want to kick puppies. (Just kidding, dog lovers.) But he does indeed have an internet following and, hey, to each their own. Kudos to him, I guess, for doing something that so many people love. He’s made himself “internet famous.”
But there’s more to this than internet fame or popularity. Is there not? What is our primary goal as atheists? Is it to just make fun of religion or is it to one day see the complete and total end of religion, and all of mankind living in rationality and logic? Or is that just a pipe dream that we pay lip service to to make ourselves feel better? Kind of like Christians and their view of Heaven. Is the purely secular atheist utopia that so many of us dream about nothing more than that, a dream? Is it our personal Nirvana that we look forward to but it’s nothing more than a myth or a fairy tale told to children at night in hopes that they sleep well without nightmares of angry gods raining down fire and brimstone on a wicked world?
To me, when I think of atheists today I see most of us summed up in one of the Big Three: Hitchens, Dawkins, or Harris. Christopher Hitchens was more straightforward and very brash. He didn’t exactly hold back. Sam Harris, my personal favorite, is more laid-back and he lays out facts very succinctly and relaxed. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him get rattled, raise his voice, or call people names. And in-between the two is Richard Dawkins, in my opinion. He is very logical and rational but also a tad bit arrogant and condescending. All three have done amazing things for atheism and logic in the world. And despite their faults they should all be commended.
Here’s where the problem arises, though. Most internet atheists want to be like Hitchens. He was more up in your face and, well, harsh. That does have its place and time, but I think so many atheists try to emulate him which causes a kind of overload of self-righteous, overly-opinionated blowhards. It kind of tips the scales. But then you have Harris who does as much if not more than Hitchens did, and his style is more laid-back, unemotional, facts in your face. Basically what I mean is there’s a time and a place for a Hitchens-mentality. Unfortunately it seems most atheists would rather be a Hitchens than a Harris. They’d rather scream “Fuck religion; it’s stupid!” at the top of their lungs and let the chips fall where they may, rather than calmly explain “Religion is below the mental capability of mankind and here’s why I oppose it and why it’s dangerous to humanity.”
Trust me, I understand all too well. I’m fed up with religion also. But there is such a word as “tact” which unfortunately atheists too often completely forfeit. It’s like we champion how logical and rational we are, but then all too often let emotions take over and start cussing at and talking down to a lot of theists. I’ve been guilty of it more times than I can count. So I’m not saying I’m better than anyone. It’s just there’s a time and a place for a Hitchens or Dawkins-type mentality. And there’s a time for a Harris or Randi-type mentality, and I think that one should be the more prevalent one. Unfortunately, most we see of atheists is on the internet, and the internet provides a filter for people of all walks of life. So you tend to get a lot of people on the internet who quickly lose sight of the fact that the people they are talking to are just that; people. Now I’m not saying that The Amazing Atheist is trying to be like Hitchens. I’m saying that he reminds me a lot of Hitchens as does many internet atheists, especially ones who make videos. It’s overwhelming and that’s why atheism gets a bad rap.I mean, for real, look at how Sam Harris conducts himself. I hope one day I can achieve that level of self-control in the face of stupidity. That’s why they are now trying to smear and slander him as an “Islamophobe.” Because there’s nothing else they can say about him.Of course the stupidity of religion hurts; it’s gonna hurt for a long time. But we should strive to be more rational, less emotional, and more straightforward with just the facts, no matter how many times we have to repeat the same evidence or debunk the same silly arguments. And I’m not saying we have to be “tolerant.” Gawd, no. Tolerant of an archaic and bigoted Bronze-age superstition? In no way am I promoting that. But we can fight these systems in a more reasonable manner.
Indeed, there is the potential for alienation. We all go through a pissed off phase when dealing with theists. That’s natural. But the pissed-off phase doesn’t have to end. We just need to amend our methods. I mean what is our ultimate purpose? To merely oppose religion or to try and educate religious people so that they just may wake up out of the delusion? The reason I ask is because merely opposing it will not cause it to lessen and eventually come to an end; education will. Opposing it in a brash and argumentative and insulting manner will stroke the ego of the atheist, but nothing more will be accomplished. And this is why I don’t really like “TheAmazingAtheist.” He seems to be in it for the popularity and the ego stroke. I mean his internet handle alone, to me, clarifies that. The Amazing Atheist? He sounds like a magician or something. And he’s not all that amazing in my opinion. I mean seriously it makes him sound like an arrogant ass proclaiming himself to be “amazing.” Why? For making YouTube videos? How many people has he led out of religion personally?What it all boils down to is the motivation of each individual. I think, and again we’re just going by my personal opinion, that if you only want to put religion down and illustrate how stupid it is (to atheists) then, yeah, the Astonishing Atheist is the way to go. But if you want to seriously wake people up and attempt to rationally put an end to religion, then it’s not the way to go.Or think of it this way. What if it was a loved one you were trying to wake up? What if it were your mother or brother or spouse/potential spouse? Would you insult them and their beliefs or would you try to educate them on all that is wrong with religion from human rights abuses to the silly and harmful superstitions found within them?Let me leave you with a quick story, and I’m sorry this turned out so long. Here’s a perfect example of what I mean about rationalizing someone out of religion: Me. I was a theist for 10 years. I became really good friends in real life with an extremely smart atheist. I mean logic, science, politics, etc etc. He knew it all. We became friends because of shared political views. One day we had the obligatory religion vs. atheism discussion. And I’d seen him on the internet before many times tearing down theists. I didn’t care because they were also Conservative theists and I disagreed with all of their views. Yes, on the internet he’s one of those “Amazing Atheists.” But when we had the discussion he wasn’t rude or brash or insulting. He brought up his points and countered my arguments with respect and logic. He pointed out when I’d make a logical fallacy and he’d carefully explain the faults with my arguments. When all was said and done no one’s mind had changed. I was still a theist. And we never discussed it again. After a couple months of thinking about the things he said and doing some research and observing some religion vs. atheism debates on the internet, I realized everything he said made absolute sense and I became an atheist. This was almost 3 years ago.Had he insulted me and talked down to me and made me feel like an idiot for believing these things I probably would have rebelled against it and buckled down in my faith and sought out more and more counter arguments. He and I probably would have stopped being friends also. And that’s the point that so many internet atheists seem to miss out on. We can openly oppose and refute religion, but we don’t have to be insulting and condescending in order to do so. Religion will die off that much quicker if we remain rational and present the facts and leave the insults and condescension out of it.
As a final word, my main reason for opposing religion isn’t just because it’s dangerous and harms humanity for more than it helps it. Sure, it’s all of that and then some, but my main reason for opposing religion is my daughter. I do not want to see her grow up and get sucked into an archaic belief system that teaches her that she is less than someone all because of her gender. In order to do that, though, I’ve gotta be able to lay out the relevant facts of the argument, and not just resort to petty things like insults and name-calling.
If we do that I believe we’ll see a higher success rate of “devangelizing” theists than one would see from an internet atheist making a video mocking a YouTube video a Christian made of himself reciting a poem he wrote about Jesus.