Tuesday, April 29, 2008

On Being Abrasive About Atheism

I composed this as a response to a post on a freethought forum I belong to. It got long, and I decided to put it here, as well.

There are a good number of nutjobs on both sides of the fence (and probably a few who sit on the fence, too). I mean, Ann Coulter and Bill O'Reilly are almost in a class by themselves for the amount of truly offensive crap they spew into the environment.

But one thing about them is this: people talk and have opinions about what they say. They are brash, harsh, abrasive, blunt, opinionated, and completely and totally in-your-face about what they say and believe. They don't give a rat's ass about who they offend. Their job is to be that person. To be the total nutjob who takes things that extra step, who says things that no sane person would believe, but who make people think and react and talk about them, and perhaps examine their own viewpoints more closely than they ever would have done without the provocation.

And Hitchens and Dawkins are doing the same thing for "our" side. Dawkins says that bringing a child up in any religion is child abuse. Do I agree with that? Maybe a little, in principle, but I wouldn't go that far. The same goes for some of the things Hitchens says. But it got them noticed. People know who they are. People talk about what they say. They are brash, harsh, abrasive, blunt, opinionated, and completely and totally in-your-face about what they say and believe. They don't give a rat's ass about who they offend.

A lot of parallels get drawn between the "rationalism movement" and the "gay movement." It must be working at least in part, because gay people are less reviled by society as a whole, now, than atheists are. If you believe the polls. And what did it take? A lot of people decided they'd had enough of being marginalized, put down, and discriminated against for something they couldn't control. They became brash, harsh, abrasive, blunt, opinionated, and completely and totally in-your-face about what they said and believed. They didn't give a rat's ass about who they offended. Don't want to see two men or two women dance together, hold hands, or kiss? "Then look away," they said, "because we're not going to go away."

Love them or hate them, Dawkins and Hitchens (and others) are doing something that needs to be done just to compete for air time. Do you think Ann Coulter would get the kind of recognition she gets if she was polite but firm about her beliefs? No! Making that quip about how she'd have to go to therapy if she called Senator Edwards "gay" was one of the most successful things for her career that she's ever done. It was offensive on so many levels that almost everyone out there had an opinion about it. And it got talked about. And people thought about what she said and why it was offensive (or wasn't). If Bill O'Reilly were anything other than the asshole he is, no one would know his name, because he'd be some third-rate reporter working in some podunk market instead of Fox News. But as it is, very few people don't know his name, and the ones that do have an opinion about him one way or the other. Again, because of the way he says what he says, he makes you think about why it offends you or doesn't. I could include Stephen Colbert, Jon Stewart, and even Keith Olbermann in the same category, but on different levels and with different goals.

I guess my point is that we need MORE people like Dawkins and Hitchens. Maybe people in general really do instinctively understand that for every complete nutjob you see out there saying outrageous things, you have a legion of decent, honest people who believe some of the same things, but aren't so in-your-face about it. Penn & Teller come part of the way on their show on ShowTime, but they aren't mainstream enough, yet, to get the kind of reaction that the other guys do. Randi mostly takes on people that the majority already know are charlatans. In the big scheme of things, the Sylvia Brownes, Uri Gellers, and John Edwardses of the world are small potatoes compared to the issues that Dawkins and Hitchens and a few others are taking on. I hope Roseanne Barr is an atheist. I think Kathy Griffin is. Maybe we need a few more abrasive people out there making an issue out of it so that it gets in the public's craw and makes them a little uncomfortable. "Gee, what if the neighbors are atheists? Does that mean they're suddenly bad people?" (Maybe I'm giving the public too much credit, but maybe not.)

I'm not overly fond of some of the things Dawkins says, either, to be honest. I think he goes too far. I'm not as harsh as he is, but I make no qualms about my atheism, either. I've laid it pretty raw on my other journal a number of times, and I've lost a few friends over it, but the majority of them stay even though the vast majority of them disagree with me. Because even though I rant and rave, I try to do it in an entertaining way, at least, to get across the message that I have my passions and my windmills, too, and I'm not all that different than they are.

I think the biggest compliment I've ever gotten on that front is a passive one. My father's family--almost all of whom are devout Southern Baptists--have no idea that I'm an atheist, except for a couple of cousins. I don't make it a secret, but most of them don't see it because...I'm nice. I'm pleasant. I don't eat babies, worship Satan, or murder and rape indiscriminately or any of the other horrible things they've been taught that we nasty ol' atheists do. I don't chant Latin backwards while they're saying grace before Thanksgiving. My hope is that as the knowledge of my atheism trickles through the family (and it will), they'll be able to look at me as a positive example that you can be an atheist and have morals, be a nice person, support charities, and even--gasp!--love your family, all without God being necessary.


Ike said...

One distinction I'd like to make:

I have more respect for the fervent who are abrasive out of their passion than those who fake it because they think it makes them more effective at expanding their reach and influence.

Kaa said...

And on any given day, I'm not sure which of the ones I mentioned would or would not fall on that list. They do, after all, make their living on ratings and numbers, and the more they can do to increase those numbers, the better.

Whether it's a calculated thing or whether they "feel the passion" is probably something we'll never know for sure.

Lady Why said...

Hello Kaa,

I stumbled upon your blog through my sitemeter. I noticed I was getting quite a few hits from your site so I decided to come over and check out your blog. I'm on your blog list! Thank you very much for mentioning me!

We have a lot in common. We live in Alabama and my husband's family live in Eutaw and have all their lives. I know Warrior Academy well from their stories!

I am also on a 'get-in-shape-and-regain-my-ideal-weight' mission. Have you tried Body for Life? It's very realistic and 'doable' for me and that's saying a lot. I have been doing it for four weeks now and have lost 7 inches and 5lbs. Not too bad, eh?

I enjoyed your post about abrasiveness in expressing a point of view. I, personally, don't like it and don't think it's necessary. But, then again, I'm not really a 'mainstream' gal. That, unfortunately, is the way most people do things no matter what side of the fence they fall. I'm all about being bold in your convictions and I'm sure I offend people occasionally with the things I say and write, but I want it to be the position that offends them and not my delivery of it. Graciousness goes a long way in winning friends and influencing people.

Nice to meet you, Kaa. I'll check back often!

Kaa said...

Actually, Lady Why, I sort of am your husband's family. :) I'm his first cousin, Gary.

I found out about your blog through the family and started following it sporadically. I found that although we don't share a lot in common on certain fronts, I find your writing quite entertaining and...I can keep up with what's going on with family I rarely see.

It wasn't until Blogger added the "bloglist" gizmo-thingy that I was able to make a list of all the blogs I routinely keep up with that I started checking yours (and others) on a more-or-less regular basis. So that's why you suddenly started noticing multiple hits from my blog. :)

I currently live in the Atlanta, Georgia area, but I come home to Eutaw when scheduling (and gas prices) permit.

Lady Why said...

Gary! It was great to see you at the hospital! I read your note back to me about 15 minutes before we left to come see y'all and I was delighted to see it was you!

I would love to see your other blog... the one with the cats and what you had for breakfast. Those are some of my favorite blogs to read! I'd also love to discuss the meaning of life and other sundry 'controversies' should you be up to a little 'debating' with a Reformed Baptist homeschooling mother of six.

Talk to you soon...

~Angie (aka Lady Why)

PS - I forgot to ask you at the hospital, how did you come up with your moniker, Kaa?

Kaa said...

I really enjoyed seeing you guys, too. It's been...years, I think. Wow.

Heh...the answer to the question "Why 'Kaa'?" requires...a bit of background and set-up. I'll compose an entire post on that, so I can just point to it when someone asks me. I just reviewed my other journal and my defunct web page, and I never really gave a halfway decent answer.

Lemme tellya 'bout 'debating'... :)

One of my very best friends in the whole world holds opinions that are diametrically opposed to mine on many topics in the relams of politics and religion. I've known him for...zounds! Close to 20 years. We have discussed many topics over the years upon which neither of us are ever going to give much ground, although both of us have moved considerably from our initial opinions when we first met. Our discussions (some of which last for hours in person or on the phone, and others of which take up hours in IM) give us both reason to think, "Gee. What, exactly, is my opinion, and why do I opine it?" On many occasions. I recently told him that trying to find ways to express my opinions/thoughts/beliefs so they'll make sense to someone who doesn't think the same way has helped me in lots of ways, and I think it's helped him, as well. It has certainly not harmed our friendship; it has, in fact, strengthened it.

So I'm fine with discussions about various and sundry topics, as long as they're basically on-topic and not overly rancorous. :)

And since only about five people know this blog exists (and I'm one of 'em), I don't see it getting out of hand anytime soon.

[That, by the way, isn't because I'm so much 'keeping it a secret' as because this blog is experimental. My other blog is much more conversational and...casual. This one--as you no doubt noticed--is more serious and...thoughtful. Essays as opposed to posts.]

Dusty said...

Ahh, glad I figured out how to comment on this because I really wanted to.

First off, great article. If anything, I'm even a bit more radical than you are about this.

The Christians have always known that this was a war, and they have fought it as a war. They do not play nice.

Which is why, in a world as tough as this one is, it is almost impossible to win unless you are willing not to be nice.

We have to fight fire with fire. The current tactics are too slow and ineffective. It's time to crank this baby up to 11 and hasten the death of the abominable cult.

It just seems to me like atheist are too willing to live in this silly "kum ba yah" magical fairly land were being nice to people and spreading pixie dust will solve the worlds ills.

It's time to snap out of it my ahtiest brothers and sisters. These motherfuckers don't respect nice. They don't respect polite.

And if they don't respect you, they are never going to take seriously what you have to say.