To a majority of this country, and a majority of the world, for that matter, atheists are a poorly understood group consisting of people who hate god, sinners, blasphemers, communists, pimps, prostitutes, sodomites, Satan worshipers, and a group determined to tear down the church. Our battles over the ten commandments, nativity scenes, and creationism have left us guilty of all the above charges in the court of public opinion.
All of these battles we have fought, all these wars we have waged, were necessary, and I am 100% behind any who take up arms (metaphorically) against those who would spend public tax dollars and use public land to promote a religious agenda, no matter how seemly benign. We've won time and time again, not in the court of public opinion, but in the court system of the United States Government.
But who amongst us is out there proselytizing the other side of the coin?
Atheism, in its truest sense, is simply being absent a theology. A-theology. A point that is clearly missed by anyone proclaiming 'I'm agnostic, I'm not an atheist because I don't presume to know.' Clearly, those who claim agnosticism in this manner have no idea what either one of those words mean.
And that is partially our fault. Even those who can get past the whole 'God-hating sinner and sodomites' position are still confronted with the secondary criticism of our collective: we are snobby elitists and 'intellectuals' (used derogatorily, of course.)
When Josh and I started this blog two and a half years ago, we chose the name very carefully. We knew we were bound to offend, but we were also aware that our simple existence would be considered by some to be an afront to good, strong family values, and a Godly existence full of reverence and fear for a man on high guiding our every move and demanding our servitude and idolization.
Not ones to back down from a fight, we chose to put it right up front, right there in the title. We know we are going to piss some of you off, we know you are going to disagree with us. We had hoped that those who do disagree would respond with coherent arguments, and the ensuing dialogue would benefit us, the opposition, and our readers.
This hasn't happened. Oh sure, we get plenty of mail, both from those who are on our side, and from those who are clearly not. Unfortunately, those who oppose us don't seem to be entering into a dialogue, but rather diatribing and disappearing. And, that's understandable. It's easy to throw a bottle through a window, and run like hell. It's infinitely harder to stand your ground, and stick to your convictions, whatever they may be.
Dawkins, Dennet, Hitchens, Harris; all have entered into great debates, and we have watched them with a smug satisfaction reserved for those who are convinced they are right. We have watched them, waiting for the snide comment, the rhetorical death blow, the deflation and destruction of the opposition's argument. These debates are important, as they serve to tease out those among us who may be afraid to come forward, not realizing that there is a whole community of like-minded people. Those debates have strengthened our base, and have swelled our numbers. Plus, there was nothing quite as entertaining as watching Hitchens decimate Dinesh Desouza.
Those debates, and the debates that are certain to come in the future, were, and are, important, yes. But, sooner or later we are going to have to shift from decimating the religious out there, and move towards educating them. We are a hated, and misunderstood, group. Those misunderstandings are what foster the misplaced beliefs about atheism that are listed above. Those misunderstandings are barring us from politics, education, journalism, and business. When was the last time you heard of anyone in government declaring that they are an atheist? My money is on Al Franken, but I'm not holding my breath.
By some on the religious right, we will always be seen as the enemy, nothing will change that. Your standard television evangelist is not going to one day come out and embrace atheism as 'an alternative lifestyle.' That is not a fight we can win. The fight we can win lay within the flock, who can change the channel, turn off the television, read a book. That is a fight we can win, but we can't win it with snide remarks and moral superiority. We win it by convincing the public that we are not the devil...something we have done a piss-poor job of doing thus far.
I don't want to be an atheist in the public perception of what that word means. I will always be absent a theology, as I'm not getting up on Sunday to go to church, or keeping holy the Sabbath. (Our show is on Sunday, so we are kinda screwed on that one.) When I say I don't want to be an atheist, I mean that I am tired of our group being a public enemy. I'm sick of hearing about uproar over our billboards, I'm sick of watching the representatives from various atheist organizations paraded on to Fox News to be attacked by the various right wing nutjobs who they seem to give microphones to. I'm sick of the public perception of atheism.
And, it is for those reasons that I don't want to be an atheist. I long for the day when the word becomes unnecessary. I long for the day when theology is a non-issue, something studied in history class, a time when we were looking for any candle flame to help us find our way in a dark filled with demons, and monsters, and fear of death. A time when we were afraid of the world, a time that has passed. We can only get there by helping those who believe to understand why we say what we say.
I don't want to be an atheist...but I have to be.