Tuesday, April 29, 2008
On Being Abrasive About Atheism
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.