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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I agree 100%, Mark. Kindness and respect for human dignity reveal strength.
I don't mean to imply that we should be dicks to the religious -- as much fun as that might be -- but I don't think we should or be expected to surrender and inch to gods we don't believe in.
Even if we had nothing for the theists to complain about, they would lie or invent something, atheists always get that. This does not reflect on issues with us, but with them to be honest
I know what you mean.

A former friend who was very close to me while I was a Catholic confronted me after my being an atheist made its way around the local social circles.

I told him that I still respected him, I still knew he was a good person, and that I still wanted to maintain our friendship.

He told me that I could not respect him without also respecting his god and his church.

The impetus is not on me to respect their god, it's on them to understand belief in god is not a prerequisite to being good. I can respect religious people for the things they do, I cannot, however, be expected to believe in their desert cults or what have you.

If they feel that respect for them and their religion are inclusive then that's their problem.
SO by not believing in his chosen deity, he automatically assumes you don't respect him and his god? Well, you could say the same is true of him and absolutely every other religion in the world plus atheism

The idea that respect for their beliefs should be an automatic right (but not when they are dishing out the bad stuff) is laughable. I like to remind such people that respect and contempt are both earned, not granted, and asking for one can earn them the other
I know it's not unique. And yes, all these misogynistic, racist fantasies are - at their very core - disgusting things

I didn't get the same reaction you did from my Jewish relatives because they completely disowned my Dad for having the audacity to "marry a Russian". Obviously, they think racism is okay when they do it
Nate,

Thanks for your very thoughtful post. Your reflections on these serious questions are sober and useful, and I found your description of your transition to nonbeliever very honest. Most of al I appreciated how articulate you are in your arguments. Thanks.

Why are we here (on A/N)? I am here to learn, to share, and to belong to a community, and I think that likely describes the vast majority of the 10,000 members.

Tom
Thanks, Tom. I appreciate the reasearch work you're doing related to "coming out in the Bible Belt".

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