For the last several months I have been a part of several online atheist groups and freethought “pages.” These pages provide nonbelievers with open forums to express themselves, which is, for all practical purposes, an affirmation of the freedom of speech. However, more times than I’d care to recall, I have seen atheists engage in some of the most vitriolic and nasty name-calling that I have ever seen. In fact, about a month ago, in January, I experienced such treatment on a Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) fan page. In response, I posted a blog about it on my WordPress page. You may recall, the name of that blog was “A Woman’s Place is Where She Says It Is: Michelle Obama, the FFRF, and the Freedom of Speech.”
Indeed, the freedom of speech is a major focal point of atheism. One prominent atheist organization, The Freedom from Religion Foundation, calls municipalities and public officials to account for violations of this constitutional right on a regular basis, yet in plain view many of its members don’t seem to welcome free speech online. Not only have I experienced this treatment first-hand, but I have seen where many people, usually women, are scolded, shamed, berated, and threatened by subscribers to the FFRF page. It is most disturbing and hypocritical. I also have witnessed, on a daily basis, many atheists and so-called freethinkers post material on their personal Facebook pages that openly solicits the pointing of fingers, name-calling and hateful speech (usually towards believers and religious happenings). Truly, it is a case of the pot calling the kettle black! For it seems to me that in their haste to assert the right to the freedom of speech, many see nothing wrong with labeling people who do believe or do not ascribe to atheism as irrational, delusional, ignorant and thereby stupid. Ironically, I often wonder if they realize how ignorant, irrational, delusional and thus stupid they are coming across.
While I am not a believer in any gods, I DO NOT ascribe to the thinking that says I can arbitrarily hurl insults, dismissive claims, and dehumanizing terms at others without knowing why they do what they do. There are many things that people, including atheists, do and say on a day-to-day basis that could be considered irrational, delusional, ignorant and stupid. I’ve written about this before in a blog piece that I posted back in August (2012) on Freethoughtblogs. The name of that piece was, “Speaking in Tongues: A Critical Comment about the Comments.” Maybe I will post it here in the near future, but the point that I made was that many atheists, even high-profile ones, such as Dan Barker and Richard Dawkins, don’t mind calling believers and what they do as “delusional.” This is not a position that I typically support because in order to call someone else delusional one must have substantial information or evidence about the other. For instance, it is okay for Dan Barker to call himself delusional, but to call others delusional (I suppose to support his position that he was in fact delusional) is another thing altogether.
The pervasiveness of this name-calling and the legitimizing of it from high profile atheists and the atheist “community” are practices that are quite troubling. In calling others names, or to engage in the public defamation of others without any explanation or evidence of why a person or an institution does what s/h/i does demonstrates intolerance and a sense of entitlement to name others. It also reveals an ignorance of the social processes that lead to the embrace of religion, or not. For example, after a recent blog post I was asked by an atheist (ex-evangelical Christian) to explain why I made reference to astrology in the blog. According to him, my inquirer, astrology was “bunk.” Bunk? Astrology? Really? Astrology is a science (which of course is disputed), and there are many famous astronmers a/k/a astrophysicists, who study the stars, galaxies, etc., such as Neil deGrasse Tyson. Nowhere in my blog (“Images of the City”: Remembering Springfield, Massachusetts) did I say anything about the “worship” or deification of the stars, which is, I am assuming, what my inquirer was getting at in calling it “bunk.” This is common in the atheist “community.” Many are so hyper-sensitive about certain concepts or words that they are quick to judge others and use name-calling as a way to elevate themselves over those others. This behavior is quite hierarchical and a maneuver often associated with white cultural practices that promote superiority at the expense of others: to name or define someone else or to call them out of h/is name, is a use of power, and often a misuse of power. For example, I often hear many atheists allege that white people “gave” Christianity to African people. Quite commonly they ask “why” have African-Americans embraced Christianity and religion so freely when (they allege) that it was “given” to them by white/European “slave masters?” This question is quite inaccurate and it reveals a lack of knowledge about the construction of Christianity (as a worldview) and the misuse of Christianity and the concept of God/religion by capitalists and imperialists.
Christianity is a worldview that originated in the Middle East and North Eastern Africa in the second century. It is not, therefore, a WHITE MAN’S RELIGION. However, the brand of religion/Christianity that was introduced to Africans and others involved in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade (TAST) was altered and racialized for economic and imperial purposes. That many atheists promote the idea that white/Europeans “gave” Christianity to Africans and others involved in the TAST reveals their ignorance about history and religion as a social construction. And, in positing that white/Europeans “gave” Christianity to Africans, they are subtly suggesting that what white/European had in the form of religion was legitimate and a choice. If there was something wrong with Christianity from jump, why don’t those asking this question, interrogate how it was that white/Europeans embraced Christianity, God or religion in the first place? By positing that Africans were victim to Christianity at the hands of white/Europeans they are really displaying an inability to see 1) the way in which white/Europeans misused and misappropriated Christianity to oppress other human beings, and 2) the way in which white/Europeans were also victimized by Christianity/religion. In other words, even if white/Europeans “gave” Africans Christianity, then it must also be considered that white/Europeans were both the victims and the perpetrators of religion and religious frameworks. That being the case, who was most deluded? And, why not problematize these issues for white/Europeans versus charge Africans and their descendants for allegedly accepting the beliefs of their white/European oppressors who were also oppressed by religion? I will submit to you that one of the reasons why atheists characterize Africans and African-Americans as “the victims” of their white/European slave masters is because many, including blacks, do not think of slave masters as being racialized and victimized by the TSAT or of Christianity/religion in any way shape or form. The slave master’s claims to religion and the insistence that others follow them were both illegitimate and thus irrational, delusional and ignorant, which placed them and their African captives proverbially in the same pot or boat. In other words, it is not historically accurate or useful to frame the white/European slave master’s use of religion nor the African captive’s acceptance of it as rational, for, indeed, the entire enterprise of slavery in the fifteenth century was IRRATIONAL, DELUSIONAL AND IGNORANT!
Well, unfortunately, I do not expect atheists to stop calling people names; this behavior seems to be most prevalent and accepted among the so-called “community” of atheists. I say so-called because this “community” is far from communal. Online, and thus perhaps in person, this community is unapologetically hostile to women and non-whites, especially to blacks and to anyone else who challenges white male authority, especially the “authority” of the “Four Horsemen.” But, that this behavior persists and will continue amongst atheists, and regardless of its volume, does not mean that it has gone unseen and accepted. There are many of us who wouldn’t spend two minutes in the same room next to people who are quick to label others as irrational, delusional, and ignorant, yet fail to see the implicit irrationality, delusion, and ignorance in their own day-to-day behavior. I am not ashamed to say that in spite of their problems and deficiencies in being able to accept my embrace of atheism, my family and my relatives, yes, church-going, God-fearing people, taught me the meaning and the hypocrisy of “the pot calling the kettle black.” And with that understanding, I’d rather stand with them and with others (even as a despised atheist) than with a hostile atheist community that fails to see itself for what or who it really is.
© 2013 annalise fonza, Ph.D.