Another from the drafts. Allegedly 2014-5-ish. The early 2010s was a transition period for me: it’s around the time I got very disillusioned with ‘movement’ atheism and skepticism. I stopped subscribing to blogs, vlogs, groups and mailing lists on the subject. So, technically, I don’t know if it’s still a Thing, exactly. Discussions with others suggests it has mostly fizzled out and/or ate itself; with the Athei-Bros becoming part of the reactionary man-o-sphere, and the Rebecca Watson apologists becoming queer activists. I don’t know if that’s actually true, but I honestly don’t actually care. I think I still agree with most of this one 8 years later. I’m pretty sure I’m on the right side of history with it. Even the fucking Prevent Strategy has stopped assuming all dark-skinned Muslims are secret Jihadist bombers. Christ-on-a-bike the 00s were a wild time…
I spotted this post from a popular Atheist group on Facebook a while back. I’ve screen-capped it below, but for the benefit of accessibility and context I’ll describe it a bit further.
“What is your most controversial opinion?” They ask.
The top two answers are 1) Islam is a big problem because it is, even more so than Christianity and 2) Feminism is a cult movement more concerned with sexism that exists in the western world than in the Middle East.
I dunno, really. I hate to play an Argumentum ad Dictionarium card, but if you gather that many up-votes, or if you can attract as many “likes” on your comment as the top level post, then your opinion isn’t really “controversial”. In fact, it’s positively mainstream, at least, in that community. I don’t think those court controversy at all, instead — trigger warning: social justice enthusiast wording ahead — these opinions pander to the white male demographic that dominates the weird beast that is Internet Atheism.
To be cynical and somewhat crude for a moment, those two opinions translate to “It’s totally that darkie foreigner religion that’s the worst” and “Bah, these bitches, eh? What can we do with them?”
And it’s pretty fucking depressing that, far from being controversial, they appear so mainstream.
Here, I aim to present some actual controversial opinions I have that are pertinent to atheism. These are opinions that will almost certainly get me down-voted to oblivion should they ever be posted to a mainstream atheist forum, or possibly have me banned from meetings should I speak them out loud. I dare not speak them lest a thousand grown men come to beat me with copies of a Sam Harris book, and then lynch me with rope made of Richard Dawkins’ pubic hair… oh, sorry, should I have trigger-warning’d that I was going to be mean to atheists? Sorry about that, I’ll give you your safe-space back soon.
1) Islam is not an extra special outlying problem
Islam definitely has its problems in its written ideology. No argument from me there.
So does Christianity; quite a few problems in fact, as evidenced by how you can mix up Bible and Qu’ran quotes and have lots of fun when people can’t tell the difference. And less said about what Scientology believes, the better.
Then again… so do Mayan and Aztec religions, which are especially nasty because they endorse human sacrifice, and that’s pretty scary in my oh-so-humble opinion. In fact, I’d like to say that, as ideologies, they’re some of the very worst.
“But wait!” You say, “No one follows those human-sacrifice religions anymore!”
Well, exactly, Skippy, that’s the point. If a religion could be apprehended in itself, and cause problems independently of the people following it, then saying things like “Muslims are fine, but Islam is bad” would make sense, and in more than just a trivial academic context. But by extension we’d also have to be scared of Aztec and Mayan religions coming to sacrifice us to their gods, because they’d be capable of causing harm independently of peoples’ existence. So instead, it makes much more sense to filter our problems with a text, or an ideology, through the lens of the people who write, interpret and act upon those texts and ideologies.
(Is that ‘structuralism’? I can never remember the terminology for this sort of thing… it’ll be an -ism of some kind. Oh, the humanities…)
“Ah, but terrorists…” You might add at this juncture. Well, quite. They certainly exist and (some) follow a religion – even if the word “terrorist” is one of those arbitrarily defined politicised things that people only use to strip (more) rights from one particular class of criminal. There might be some correlation in there, but it’d be like the “psychopath gene” all over again: many murderous psychopaths apparently have a similar genetic identifier, but so many people in the general population who aren’t murderous psychopaths have the same gene that it makes it utterly pointless to worry about. “Islam” fails as an explanation except in a trivial academic sense that exists only in a world where people don’t.
As it stands, out of a billion plus Muslims in the world, there are remarkably few terrorists. In fact, our little stereotype of them being violent middle-east dwelling sand-eaters is, put simply, false – because the largest Muslim populations are in South East Asia, not the middle-east.
And out of all terrorists, quite a few aren’t Muslim. Sure, Islam has those words that might cause people to become terrorists… but targeting Islam as a cause gives us hardly any explanatory power over who does and does not become a murderer.
Even then, Muslims killing is pretty rare in the grand scheme of things. Personally, I’m more scared of a white, English driver getting drunk and killing me than I am of an Islamic terrorist killing me. That’s reflective of simple statistics to say what is more likely. Do we then blame ‘Englishness’ as inherently problematic? Do we then say “English is the real underlying cause, so we need to criticise English… but it’s okay, the people are mostly fine, we just want to criticise English, the abstract concept.” No, because that’s fucking nuts.
Islam doesn’t scare me. Some of the people following it might, but there’s thankfully very few of them. The religion, in itself, scares me as much as Aztecs and Mayans do. Should they re-emerge and become a statistically viable threat to me, I’ll adjust my views accordingly. Until then, it’s as useful as “they breathe oxygen” or “the problem with the world is the universal wavefunction and the boundary conditions of the universe”. It explains nothing because it tries to explain everything, which makes “Islamdidit” practically the atheist version of “Flooddidit”.
And there you go. That’s a fucking ‘controversial’ opinion. It will have atheists from Reddit to Wikipedia frothing that I could be so stupid and so blind. How dare I choose not criticise a religion because us Atheists need to stick together?
Well, I don’t think that because…
2) Atheists are not the most oppressed minority
Even in the United States, which still keeps many laws on the books banning non-believers from public office, atheists are not actively oppressed.
For a start, most of the laws go unenforced, and when they do there are other legal protections against it.
Sure, people can be fired for it, and that’s bad… so long as it’s for that reason and not because they did the Atheist equivalent of telling all their co-workers they’ll burn in Hell and throwing Bibles everywhere. After all, I complain repeatedly whenever the Christian Legal Centre generates a manufactroversy by falsely claiming religious persecution, I have to be consistent and absolutely not accept it if an atheist does the same.
But, really, let’s be absolutely honest here: religion causes far more harm to LGBT groups than it does to non-believers. Atheists don’t have a higher level of suicide, they can still marry without controversy or denying who they are and what they believe, they tend to be from wealthy, affluent areas and get high paying jobs. As a class, they’re pretty stable except in extreme exceptions. But the damage done to LGBT people is reflected in laws across the world, including the supposedly civilised portion of it. You’re more likely to have fewer rights identifying as LGBT across the world than you are as “none” for religion.
There are parts of the world where atheism is oppressed and apostasy is punishable by death. But how many western atheists genuinely give a crap or do anything to help them? “Nah. Fuck off. That sounds like effort.” Far easier just to pretend your own western-centric experience is the only one that matters. It’s more smugly endearing to think that you, you poor non-believing dear, gets it worst out of everyone.
Religion’s treatment of women is also extremely pronounced, though mostly carried by social mores than religious edicts. A woman’s place is here, a woman’s place is there… no, she can’t do that, it’s a man’s job. And so on. You don’t get social pressure that “if you’re an atheist you cannot do that job”. Hell, if some surveys are to believed, atheism doesn’t even disqualify you from entering religious ministry!
What’s worse, of course, is that atheists take those social mores with them. They actually inherit many of the social problems that – so they claim – religion has generated. And then uncritically carry it forward. “Ha! Feminazis!!” they’ll cry “bothered about equal pay and depictions of women here when women are getting raped there!” – or, to translate that into English “Hey, quit criticising my misogyny, criticise theirs instead!”
Again, this likely to get me hounded out of the room for daring to criticise Glorious Atheism and how it will cure all social ills because Logic and Reason!
And speaking of Glorious Atheism…
3) Atheism is a fucking cult
“NO!” I hear you cry. “Atheism is NOT, NOT, NOT…” *bangs desk* “…a religion or a cult! Atheism just means not believing in g*d(s)!!”
Which is great, but “dictionary atheists” as I like to call them (“village atheists” has been used elsewhere) miss the point: such an idea doesn’t survive a head-on collision with the simple fact that people exist.
If atheism simply means “non-belief”, then why do atheist groups even exist? Why is their an atheist sub-reddit? Why is there an Atheism+ or a Brights movement? Why do books get written on the subject? Why are we even having this discussion?
Because people exist and movements and ideologies are way more than just their basic one-line definitions!
Atheism has a culture and a society that grows up around it. And, yes, while it’s hard to pin it down to just a single entity because those groups are diverse, and hold different opinions so can’t be lumped together (and if you agree to that but are happy to lump “Islam” and “Feminism” as great monolithic cult-like entities, we need to talk at a more basic level), it’s impossible to deny a society and a social expectation is raised around these groups.
As an Atheist, you’re expected to use “logic” and “reason” and be “rational”. They’re buzzwords. They’re verbal signals to identify each other. Be honest, when was the last time you saw an Atheist talk about “logic” and include something like “¬(¬A) ⇔ A“? Probably never. You’re more likely to see them name-drop the Dog Latin term for a (informal) logical fallacy and declare victory. Yet you’re still meant to be “logical” and “rational”, and use those words freely to describe yourself – religion, conversely, must be “illogical” and “irrational”, no matter the argument at hand. Never mind that something like the modal logic proof of God is logically valid (the issue is its applicability and scope), it has to be “illogical” because none of you fuckers know what “logic” means.
As an Atheist, you’re expected to agree with other Atheists. Stick together. Don’t criticise Dawkins because he’s a hero! But do criticise Feminazis because they’re illogical! Do bring up injustice in the middle-east, but don’t-you-fucking-dare mention injustice closer to home – and then promptly do nothing about it.
Atheism, at least when you spell it out and mention it out loud, comes with these social expectations. It’s all part and parcel, meaning “atheism” absolutely cannot refer only to the one-line dictionary entry “does not believe in g*d(s)”. Even if you object to the word being used to describe that social structure, you can’t deny the social structure still exists and in fact causes problems.
So, with three actual controversial opinions out there, you may now post this to Reddit and commence your Groupthink, suckers.