“God is dead.” Scrawled across a community billboard, these words confronted my Catholic friend every day during the school year. Someone would replace the board, and shortly afterwards, “God is dead” or “Jesus sucks” would appear again. And it made her angry. It made her hate that faceless atheist that mocked her beliefs. And when she told me about it, it made me angry. It made me feel like I was being judged for something I didn’t do, even though she is generally incredibly open to other religions and to non-religion.
We atheists like to criticize billboards with such distasteful slogans as “Homo sex is a sin," but then some go and do equally distasteful things like graffiti a church. Another friend of mine, recently agnostic, told me just today that hardcore atheist rhetoric reminds her too much of her former evangelical church’s style for her to ever be comfortable looking into atheism.
|I have a game. Find the offensive picture!|
So here, within my life outside of ISSA, I can easily find examples of people negatively affected by our rhetoric. It doesn’t matter that not all atheists post things like this on the internet. It still turns people off, be they religious, agnostic, or even other atheists. Derek Miller gave a great talk at the SSA conference this year about how service can help our movement's image (I wish I could provide a link -- it’ll be on our Facebook once they post it) and Max McKittrick wrote this awesome blog post about how to talk to fundamentalists. But it’s not just fundamentalists that need to be a part of the dialogue. We need to able to converse with everyone on the religious spectrum, and we can’t do that if the better part of them are turned off by intolerant mockery. Richard Dawkins told tens of thousands of us at the Reason Rally to openly mock religion. I respectfully disagree. I have yet to meet anyone who, upon being mocked, will think, “Hey, good point. Let’s talk about this some more.” They naturally just end up pissed off and want to return the mockery.
I’m not suggesting that we lie down, bow our heads in prayer and pretend all is peachy. Far from it, in fact. Dawkins and I are in absolute agreement that religion should be a topic of discourse in our society. But there is a difference between being clear in your beliefs (or lack thereof) and instantly going on the offensive whenever religion is brought up. The only reason half my friends know anything about atheism (other than the grim picture painted for them by their church) is that I respect them enough to not be a jerk when these things come up. Generally, they’re curious about it, and we both go home having learned something about someone else’s worldview.
I guess the moral here is: Be nice. You’ll win more friends and likely influence more people because of it. It might not be particularly funny, shocking, or redeemable for reddit karma, but in the long run atheists will be perceived better because of it.