Thursday, October 22, 2009

Tensions Around New Atheism and Blasphemy Day

The Center For Inquiry responds to allegations of "fundamentalist atheism," related to the NPR story we shared recently titled "A Bitter Rift Divides Atheists." I will let you read the article at their site, but I wanted to highlight a comment that someone left because I think it really touches on the core of the issue in a succinct and poignant manner.
Have “Atheist Fundamentalists” Taken Over CFI?

#6 Joe (Guest) on Wednesday October 21, 2009 at 6:00pm

No. I didn’t attend any nor will I ever attend an event under a title known for it’s intentional offensiveness. It is why I won’t attend a KKK rally. I don’t have to be present to know that even if the KKK has a right to free speech they are certainly antagonistic based on the words in the title and the implication just the letters KKK hold. So the “don’t knock it ‘til you try it” stuff is irrelevant.

I have spoken with families that are not happy about drawing negative attention to themselves. One family just this past week experienced a situation in school where the oldest son was ganged up on because he said he didn’t believe “in the one true god”. I said, “good for him!” for standing up for his belief/lack thereof in the face of adversity. His mother felt otherwise due to a very real concern for his safety. His father and I had closer to the same reaction, except that he wanted to take this one to the ACLU. She chose to stop that so that the situation wouldn’t make their son a total pariah. Her child was unjustly accused of being antagonistic. CFI appears to be working to make that a just accusation by association. Stop.

These families are trying to deal with a public that is already against them. I don’t think you are fully appreciating the discrimination associated with being considered an enemy rather than being considered a rational alternative. Nevermind the fact that many of us actually have friends and relatives that are still religious and we actually respect these people despite their unfortunate delusion. We could concentrate instead on the aspect of employment discrimination in a largely Christian city/state. I know that I have lost bids due to my name getting known around here as running an atheist kids program (even though it isn’t one). I’ve been accused of attempting to convert children to “atheism”.

We could concentrate on the fact that I am getting calls and hearing stories at the center of children being accosted verbally and physically for being labeled or labeling themselves as atheist. It’s happening enough that several parents have asked me to do a program on how to deal with these situations because the parents are at a loss. Should they make a big stink and risk worse for their child? Or should we teach the kids how to coexist? Are we setting a good example for youth by promoting antagonistic behaviors such as outright blasphemy? How does one reconcile teaching positive conflict resolution and also support overt offensive actions?

One woman in our group expressed disappointment with our kids’ group name change to CFI Kids because it now identifies her child as an atheist. We had a big ordeal over the name change because there were other parents that felt similar. Point is, it’s hard enough to deal with adults that find out you’re an atheist or whatever your flavor of non-belief may be. Children have a harder time. Add on top of that the fact that CFI is supportive of offensive events that fuel the anger of the religious. That makes people emotional rather than rational and increases the chance for ostracization and even violence. At the least it builds barriers where many of us have been working very hard to take them down. It’s hard to start a convincing persuasive argument to get people to come to the center if I am immediately viewed as a hatemonger by association.

The defensive position against CFI as a “fundamentalist” or “militant” (or whatever extremist term you prefer) atheist group because we choose to support hateful demonstrations in the name of free speech will keep us from making positive headway with many doubters. We need to be seen as a rational alternative rather than as an enemy.

I didn’t say I would personally stop donating. I was pointing out a very real fact of fund raising that should be considered. I would appreciate it if you represent my statement accurately.

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