Hey Atheists, Just Shut Up Please
"Whoopsie!"—Christopher Hitchens, December 16, 2011
A week ago, Salon published a story I wrote about returning to a Creationist museum my parents took me to when I was very young. The article was not mean-spirited or contemptuous; it was mostly about an atheist looking back honestly and nonjudgmentally at his religious past and religious family. I was just trying to talk about Christianity without adopting the tone of offended arrogance that so many non-Christians use when they’re discussing fundamentalists. To be clear: I wasn’t defending Creationists; I just didn’t want to be a giant dick.
Of course, plenty of other people were willing to be giant dicks. As soon as the piece was published, the comments section erupted in overwrought, hoity-toity, exasperating rhetoric, as people made fun of Creationists for being ignorant and blamed the people I mentioned in the articles for everything evil done in the name of Christianity.
Here are a few choice quotes:
“I hear Betty and Barney are especially lifelike in their display.”
“It is certainly interesting that while George Bush claimed (incorrectly, I believe) they hate us for our freedoms, large swathes of the US population are actually just as primitive in their thinking as the simplest tribesmen in the mountains of Afghanistan and are held there by a wealthy priesthood class who exploit their gullability. [sic]”
“It's a dangerous thing to show respect to beliefs and ideas that don't deserve it. For example, Christianity. Christianity is not only responsible for the murder of millions of people over the centuries, it's responsible for children being killed by ‘faith-healing’ today.” [He then linked to his website, because why not?]
Never mind that I wasn’t exposing Christianity or even endorsing it—if you say something as mild as “Hey, here are some Christians practicing their faith; that’s not really a bad thing” you’ll get mobbed by a group of people who are quickly becoming the most annoying demographic on the internet. I speak of a subtype of militant atheists who I’ll call the “Reddit Atheists.” These are the folks who have, ironically, adopted the attitudes of hardcore evangelicals who try to convert strangers on subway platforms—it’s not enough for them that they don’t believe in God, they want to make sure you don’t believe in God either. Just by being themselves, they make the best case against humanism.
If you want to find out why I call these guys Reddit Atheists, take a brief dip into the atheism subreddit. It is a place entirely defined by bitter, faux-enlightened young people sharing “thought-provoking” images about the horrific evils of religion (in practice, pretty much just Christianity) and congratulating each other for being “enlightened.” The site was originally intended to be a place where people talk about atheistic ideas, but as is Reddit’s depressing trend, it soon devolved into a swampy mess of endless, banal clichés, memes, and general anti-intellectualism. It actually rivals Creationism in terms of having a narrow worldview. They’ve actually had a campaign where they would write “once upon a time” on the first page of every Bible they found in hotels, which is probably the lamest form of vandalism ever.
Reddit Atheism isn’t about philosophy or even adult conversation; it’s about getting riled up into a frothing-at-the-mouth ideological stupor so you can feel guiltlessly self-righteous for the rest of the day. In all of my trips to r/atheism, I’ve never seen anyone post anything written in a measured tone. If you need more proof, take a look at these fine examples of even-keeled insight. I’m going to go out on a limb here, but I don’t think Ludwig Feuerbach would be proud.
But listen, I totally get it. If I were 15 when r/atheism was around, I’d probably live in this dark corner of the internet. When you hit that phase where you’re just starting to read grown-up stuff and you become convinced everyone else is a moron, it’s really easy to hate organized religion with a passion and assume that people with faith have just failed to think things through. Then you grow up a little bit by becoming more self-aware and maybe getting away from some of the more odious religious people you knew as a kid—eventually, you get to a place where you can hear someone say, “I’ll pray for you” and simply say, “Thank you,” instead of being a total shit about it. That is, unless you end up making a career out of “debating” religious people, a la Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins. (By the way, what is more arrogant than assuming someone can be reasoned into abandoning their faith?)
Defining your life by volatile antitheism—in other words, clinging to something you don’t believe in—isn’t just annoying, it’s actually pretty backward, and, in some cases, culturally malignant. For a demographic that spits a lot of game about equality and mobility, they sure love lording their “intellect” over anyone who dares to think differently. The atheism subreddit gets off on feeling superior to other people; it’s not about ideas or truth, they’d rather thrive on that faux-scholar buzz. That’s why Dawkins is their fire-and-brimstone pin-up boy. That’s why they screencap Facebook updates from their religious “friends” so they can laugh at all the plebeians from their pretty little perch. There’s no respect or pragmatism, just bottomless, never-ending hate.
At a certain point you have to ask: Has hate ever led to anything progressive? Do the Reddit Atheists actually think they’re changing the world? Judging by their arrogance I wouldn’t doubt it. There’s an effective way to spread knowledge, and this isn’t it. Obviously the r/atheism brotherhood is mostly harmless, but I think I speak for everyone else in the world when I say: Guys, shut the fuck up for a second, please. Whatever problem you think you’re solving by your shitty rage comics and rants, you’re not.
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