Lately, atheism and atheists have been all over the news, most notably in Rebecca Vitsmun’s interview with Wolf Blitzer in which she admitted, with a bit of trepidation, that she was an atheist. It was a remarkable clip. I felt proud seeing such a typical mom (if there is such a thing), someone one might see at the grocery store lugging around her kids, admit she was a freethinker.
A couple of observations:
- Blitzer was looking for the so-called “god-byte.” Years ago, my next-door neighbor was a local TV newsman. He told me that when he edited footage, he always looked for the “god-byte” as he called it, that moment when someone thanks god for X, Y, or Z. I have no idea why that would be so important to air, but it is a common practice, as Blitzer demonstrated. He was fishing for the god-byte. I have never, never seen the atheist-byte on television before Vitsmun. Never. One can imagine, if it ever happens, it hits the cutting floor, never sees the airwaves or bitstreams. The interview with Vitsmun was live, which I have no doubt is the only reason we saw it.
- Most atheists I know don’t wear their atheism on their sleeves, and Vitsmun demonstrated that. She only admitted she was an atheist with a touch of trepidation, and she wouldn’t have said a word had Blitzer not pressed her. Contrast that with Christians, many of whom parade their embarrassingly personal religious views publicly, and have absolutely no shame in doing so. I never discuss my atheism publicly unless I am asked something like “what church do you go to?” It just isn’t relevant to most conversations.
Every day someone on Facebook posts something about god on my timeline. Every day. I do not block such, thus, I am tolerant of those messages even though I disagree with them. I am not threatened by language, completely unafraid of ideas. I do know, for a fact, that friends have dropped me, blocked me, because I am an out-of-the-closet atheist who is sometimes (often) critical of Christianity. Certainly pro-science, pro-education, and pro-reason every time I log in. I’ve found that many Christians are outright intolerant of atheist perspectives, yet demand that others take their silly beliefs seriously. Mark that difference. I am tolerant of people who think differently, and I think everyone should live as he or she sees fit (within confines of the law). That doesn’t mean I can’t call one’s beliefs silly. As soon as one puts them out in public, they are fair game for criticism.
(Want to test tolerance? Put a Jesus fish on your car. Put a Darwin fish on your other car. See which one gets vandalized.)
Christians believe many silly things that defy reasonable explanation. I am very sorry for saying so, but it is true. I could spend the rest of the week listing all of the silly things Christians believe, but I’ll take just one: Noah’s ark. If one believes that two of every animal survived a global flood on a sort-of-large boat, he or she has a silly belief. It is a belief that defies all common sense, all knowledge of the history of the Earth, all the laws of physics. In other words, it is a belief in something that never happened. It is false. I am under no obligation to take it seriously.
If I held such a silly belief, like that an invisible pink unicorn lived in my closet, I would keep that to myself for fear of public ridicule. If I paraded that belief in public and demanded that people respect it, would my belief earn that respect? Certainly, no one should take a belief in invisible pink unicorns seriously, just as no one of a reasonable disposition should take Noah’s ark as anything more than an interesting and colorful (and borrowed) myth.
Interestingly, most Christians understand this concept, and they practice it all the time when ridiculing or criticizing the beliefs of people who practice other religions. Every Christian in the world recognizes that Scientology is stupid. The problem is that they have this remarkable ability to shield their own stupid beliefs from the same critical inspection. My sentiments about Scientology and Christianity are precisely the same, and it occurs to me as I write this that I am an atheist because I spent much of my teens and twenties tearing down that wall that protected my Christianity from my critical gaze. That is the difference between an atheist and a Christian in most instances, is my guess. Each has a critical mind, more-or-less, but the latter has looked behind the wall and seen nothing there. The former hasn’t looked with any comparable determination.
The clincher for me is that nothing has done more damage to human beings than Christianity. Nothing. You name it, is has been done in the name of Christ. Murder, slavery, rape, genocide, oppression, torture, the gamut of human filth has been inspired by Christianity, making it all the more difficult to have one ounce of respect for the beliefs of those who practice such a morally/ethically bankrupt religion. It is also pernicious in all sorts of other ways, subtle and no-so-subtle. It fosters guilt, self-loathing, stunted sexuality, among others. If one doesn’t recognize all the human suffering that is caused by Christianity, he or she just hasn’t thought about it with any kind of deliberate and somber reflection.
That is not to say that Christianity doesn’t preach its virtues, love and charity and the good things, it is just that its memes of intolerance and ignorance are its most forceful expressions. One doesn’t have to look very hard to see this is true.
People are put off by the so-called new atheists because they call it like it is. This has fueled much of my thought. The “new atheists” are not really new. Robert Ingersoll was doing the same things in the Victorian era; Mark Twain in his; Thomas Paine during the American Revolution. There’s nothing new about new atheism. The platforms have changed. That’s it. To say that Noah’s ark is false is just to say something that should be evident to any thinking person. To say it is also completely uncontroversial. That it is controversial speaks to the dominance of Christianity in American culture, not the validity of the belief. If there’s anything else new about atheism it is that Rebecca Vitsmun is comfortable claiming it on national television.