Concerns about how atheism is perceived- Does it really matter?

From time to time I notice comments made by A|N members to the effect that the tone or content of this or that discussion may not reflect well on our community. Some bristle at the mere mention of certain words or concepts- suggesting that their usage could somehow reverse "atheist progress". As a person that spent most of my life in a religious cult I sincerely understand these concerns. But I wonder if public perception of atheism is really a factor in the ex-believer's self-deprogramming. Does someone really question their beliefs because of what they read on a discussion forum for atheists? Or do they end up there after leaving religion(mentally at least- the physical exit usually comes a little later), seeking out like minds and new ideas with which to reconstruct a worldview?

I may be especially sensitive to the worry about what the "religionists will think if they see this" because of my religious background. We were continually being admonished to put on an appearance of normalcy and unity that would promote our message. But even then I wondered, 'If we really have The Truth, any personal idiosyncrasy or organizational failing will not be enough to prevent its discovery by a sincere person.' Why such a preoccupation with good PR? Now I understand. PR is all they had. We have reality.

I didn't arrive at atheism because of what I read in any book or on any discussion forum. It was a personal realization that I'd been altering reality for my whole life to make it match what my religion taught. The facts were always there, I just resisted acknowledging what my brain was processing. In my defense, I was brainwashed. But the day came that I could no longer jump through those doctrinal hoops. I think I'm mostly done deprogramming now. Completely? I doubt that. But I am nearly a gnostic atheist. I'm so thoroughly convinced that there's a naturalistic explanation for everything that I couldn't go back to theism, of any brand, even if I saw some social or emtional benefit to doing so.

What I'm trying to get at is that divergences in point of view about language and what it means- isn't that what most of our perceived differences are about?- do absolutely nothing to change that fact that we all lack belief in deities and the supernatural world that they purportedly inhabit. The unique window on reality that each and every one of us brings to this ongoing discourse about the universe, life, and what it means or the very good possibilty that it means nothing at all is our strength. We no longer have to follow some religious protocol or check with headquarters to get permission to think. That's something I love about this place. I'm not here because I need to reassure myself that "we're right and they're wrong". I'm here because the atheist community is also a community of persons courageous enough to pick cold and harsh reality(also full of beauty and wonder) over the warm comforts of delusion. That's bound to be an interesting bunch.

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First off Nate, why should it be an issue how we appear to theists?

That's my point.

I think I'll rename the discussion.

That's a great question, Nate.

I'm of the opinion that it doesn't matter. I used to temper my belief on god by saying that I was an agnostic, I've since dropped the softer word for the heavier and more blunt "atheist."

Like you, I used to be religious. I was highly religious, very dogmatic, and very right wing about my Catholicism. I watched the Passion of the Christ and left with a sense of perverted reverence and joy as opposed to the disgust I now have for ALL snuff films.

All that said, I don't think it matters how we are perceived. I don't think it matters at all. Much in the same way I don't think gays should temper their dress or behavior, I don't think atheists should either -- simply because it doesn't matter.

You don't have to give the religious reasons to hate you or find problems with your world view; they already have them and if they don't have them, they will find some. There is nothing that we can do to temper them.

Much in the same way that homophobes and other otherwise anti-gay people will, without fail, associate homosexuality with bestiality; they quickly and readily associate atheism with fasci-communism. I've seen those arguments made; I've agreed with those arguments before; I've even made those arguments. They are necessarily bad and highly flawed, but people already inclined to believe them will take them as fact -- regardless of what we do, to them we will always be fasci-communists, Commie Nazis, or whatever evil thing they want to associate us with.

Just take Robert Ingersoll. A valiant soldier, an abolitionist, a women's suffragist, a philanthropist, a orator -- all thing that we would readily and rightly associate with a man of high moral and ethical caliber. He was a good man by all accounts, and he was an atheist. A town in Texas was named Ingersoll after him -- a town that changed its name to Redwater after a large revivalist meeting -- replacing the name of an honorable man with the undrinkable red water found in a newly dug well.

It does not matter how we are perceived, it does not matter how we act; they will always find fault with us. For them it is not what atheists think or behave that is objectionable -- it is atheism itself that they have problems with, and given that there can be nothing done, short of conversion, that will cause them to think differently of us.
I'm in agreement with Jack as well.
When a person doesn't like you in advance, it doesn't really matter what you say.
They're just looking for justification for disliking you at that point, anything will do.

I get a little weird when people start in on "We should help people through charity because it will give atheists a better image.". I think we should help people because it's the right thing to do, not to shift opinions of us. If they like us better for it, that's fine. If not, they can bugger off.
I get a little weird when people start in on "We should help people through charity because it will give atheists a better image.". I think we should help people because it's the right thing to do, not to shift opinions of us.

I came to Atheist Nexus looking for discussion, I was tried of speaking to people who only used one point of reference for all their idea's (that a gross exaggeration but I stand by it).

I found more then I bargained for and I am glad for it. I like the fact that even though I might not always agree with something at least it makes me think about the answer.

With any community the most vocal don't usually represent the whole. I spent a bit of time reading past conversations and learning about the community before I really decided to join in.

I liked the people I saw and the conversations they had. I would have joined no matter what was on the front page, based on the deeper community inside.
Daniel: I agree that the insulting phallus-measuring types are annoying and even alienating. I usually chalk the more heated exchanges up to the aggressor having some unresolved psychological issue or deep insecurity- either personal or about the validity of their position. And then are those that seem to come here to promote a book or a blog or something like that. I guess their idea is that stirring things up may be get them some advertising.

I was also thinking of what I perceive to be a hypersensitivity to certain words like "atheist churches". If people striving to live in reality can find community and human connection in these groups, we ought to applaud that. Why get so hung up on terminology? As if using the word "church" gives theists some sort of victory. I'd probably never attend one myself because I doubt I'll ever get over the burnout from attending and participating in so many religious meetings for so many years. But I'm happy for those nontheists that get some benefit from them.

I always appreciate your even-tempered approach and insightful comments, Daniel.
Yes, some people will hate us no matter how squeaky-clean an image we project but that's no reason to be defeatist. We're human and we should act that way. Rudeness toward believers hurts all atheists. We've got to ease up on the vinegar and pour on a little more olive oil. This is not about evangelism - it's about acceptance. And if we're accepted, it's more likely that people will have the courage to consider what we say.

It is possible to tell the truth with kindness.
It is possible to tell the truth with kindness.

So are we supposed to be nice to all believers in anything or just religious people?
Is it ok to call a Flat Earther "silly" but not a Mulsim?
What about different religions? Are Scientologists deluded but Christians aren't?
Do we have to show deference to homeopaths and dowsers?
Is it just a matter of numbers? X are deluded fools because there aren't very many. There are lots of Y, so I politely beg to disagree slightly with them on a matter of opinion if it isn't too terribly inconvenient for them.

I'm quite happy with who and what I am. That's not defeatism.
I'll not grovel before the masses for their acceptance.

We tried being nice for hundreds of years and we were hated and feared, when they couldn't be bothered to kill us. Now that we've got people like Dawkins running around yelling at people, there are more of us than ever.
We can be kind while disagreeing. The ones promoting beliefs should be on the defensive, not us. Is Dawkins' "yelling" really creating atheists or is the increasing number of open atheists simply providing an atmosphere where it enjoys an audience?
We should be kind to everyone. To the insane. To the ignorant. To the superstitious.
And when we're treated rudely, we should respond with fierce dignity.




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