The USS Quad Damage

Avoiding antagonism with agnostic

Every time you say "Agnostic" God kills a kitten in heaven with a 7-iron to the fore-skull. It isn't pretty, so say what you really mean: "Atheist".

I guess what I'm saying is, if you're an Atheist and a douche, you're stopping a kid from becoming an Atheist.

Richard Dawkins spends a lot of time which, in a reasonable and civil society, wouldn’t need to be spent on the things he spends it on. Most of the time, he’s refuting god, or defending evolution or science in some way. This is a terrible waste of time, because it’s re-iterating the same basic actual knowledge over and over in slightly different ways. More and more, you can see how delicately and politically he has to state things.

The second thing he does is asking Atheists to stand up for themselves. This was something I used to think was completely unnecessary, but I’ve realised more and more how important it really is. I might even go so far as to say coming out as an Atheist might be as difficult for some people as coming out as a homosexual, or being a woman or racial minority.

Australia has it fairly good. We’re a fairly secular nation, and even the believers are in enough of a cultural melting pot to have their beliefs softened. Unfortunately, many nations are having problems, notably America but also the UK. As a result, Australia may get dragged into certain things which I don’t believe any of us want. Even as it is, I still think that it could be hard being an Atheist in Australia and admitting it.

I say this because a lot of Australian Atheists describe themselves as “Agnostic”, by which they mean “I don't know if there is a god or not”. However, judging by their other beliefs, what they’re really saying is “I'm actually a proper Atheist but for a couple of reasons I'm not going to classify myself with that bunch”. I know this basically because Agnostics take an attitude of “it doesn't affect me” when it comes to god. However, if you figured there was a chance of God (as defined by any of the religions) existing, wouldn’t you take some steps to ensure you got into heaven (like getting baptised)? Which religion would you choose, considering they all claim that choosing the others will send you to hell? Choosing none is definitely going to send you to hell, whereas picking one at random gives you better odds. Not actually choosing a religion actually indicates their real opinion on God.

There are two reasons to call yourself Agnostic and not outright Atheist. The first is getting into arguements. Most of the time you’ll avoid an actual arguement but if you ever talk to a religious person and you drop in the word “Atheist” on them you know they’re resisting the urge to correct you. If you use “Agnostic” instead, they’ll just resist the urge to convert you.

The second reason is that Atheists seem like bastards. Currently, Atheism as a “movement” carries the same kind of burden as feminism (with the “femo-nazis”) and homosexuality (“I'm the only gay in the village”). You might be an empowered woman but you won’t call yourself a feminist just so that you can differentiate yourself from the caustic few who want to grow men in vats just for their semen. Gay people have fared better, perhaps because of how celebratory being gay has become — they avoid the stereotype of the hateful fag.

Atheists, similarly, work towards refuting God. This is important when you have political issues like “creation science”, but outside of that it’s just treading on people’s beliefs. A whole lot of Atheists have the same deriding snigger to the fundies (“I can't believe you can use a toaster”) as the fundies do to the Atheists (“It's funny because you're going to hell when you die”). Even stating the belief out loud can seem a little sanctimonious. Atheists in general need to become kinder and gentler beings, because the consequences are fairly dire. After all, you can’t have a conversation like this: “Hey dad, I know we always go to church on Sundays, but I've decided I'm A..gnostic”. “So I guess you'll keep coming to church then”. “Yes sir”.

I guess what I’m saying is, if you’re an Atheist and a douche, you’re stopping a kid from becoming an Atheist. You need to do good and then actively claim it for Atheism. When you get on TV for doing volunteer work, mention that you’re an Atheist. Start up an Atheist volunteer organisation, and mention the fact that you don’t have a religious connection. The problem is there are a lot of secular people doing good work (sometimes for religious organisations) and then not being counted as being moral citizens who do not believe in a God.

Note that two slightly offensive things still need to happen with Atheism: Some (kind, but firm) push to keep science sciencey instead of non-science like creationism, and calling yourself an Atheist, which is basically akin to saying “I believe you and you're religion is wrong”. That can be hard, but I think that with time things will change and opinions will soften.

One of the problems with Atheism is that religious people believe that you cannot be an Atheist and still be a good and moral person. More super-liminal things need to be done to ensure that some kid who tells his dad one day that (s)he’s an Atheist to a religious dad has some backing in good moral people who’ve stood up and said “I'm an Atheist”.

The other major one is we don’t have an Atheist..mas? Dan Buettner talks about how people of certain religious denominations live longer because they hang out. Atheists, I don’t think, do that. This idea of increasing your circle of friends, and having various cultural things like weddings and whatnot, not related to religion, are important. I think that Atheism as a movement needs to consider this if it is to have lasting success.