Two Images of Atheism: Hate versus Community


The dominant image of atheism: Blogger PZ Myers wearing a scarlet letter "A" for atheism T-shirt.

Atheists have a major image problem. There's a reason that when people ask me what I believe I have to say with a smile: "I'm an atheist...but a friendly atheist." For sure, atheists for a long time have been unfairly stereotyped in the mainstream media and in popular culture. But we also have a lot of lousy self-proclaimed spokespeople who do damage to our public image. They're usually angry, grumpy, uncharismatic male loners with a passion for attacking and ridiculing religious believers. Any fellow atheist who disagrees with their Don Imus rhetoric, they label as appeasers.

These "new atheists" are the dark under belly of atheism. In books, blogs, and public statements, they sell us ideological porn, sophomoric rants that feed our dark sides and reinforce our own unfair stereotypes about the "other," i.e. the religious.

Yet all of this does far more harm than good. The addictive nature of their rhetoric radicalizes us and leads us to an ever more closed off conversation about how we are superior and everyone else is delusional.

In the process, we miss out on working together with religious communities around shared common values and problems. And when their self-promoting atheist punditry is picked up by either the mainstream press or the religious media, we as a community of atheists incur deep self-inflicted wounds, with news coverage feeding the stereotype that we are a bunch of intolerant and arrogant eccentrics.

Consider this recent article at the National Catholic Register. Titled "The Face of the New Atheism," it profiles PZ Myers and his rants against the Eucharist and the Catholic community. Notice the key words emphasized. The dominant image of atheism portrayed in the article is one of "hate," "contempt," "dogmatism," "a junior high level understanding of religion," "irate," "incredulous," "bigoted"...the list goes on.

Is this how we really want Catholics to view us? Do we really want a group of moderately religious Americans--who polls show otherwise prize science and reason, and who stand for many of the same values that we hold dear--to think of us through the prism of PZ Myers?

The image of atheism doesn't have to be this way. As I have argued before, if you want to improve the image of atheists you have to step away from being just another shrill voice in the argument culture and focus on building a diverse, inter-connected community, of standing for something, rather than just against something!

The points of emphasis for the rest of the public should be on "strong community member and leaders," "teachers," "listeners," "working with others on common problems," "tolerant," "engaged," "open-minded," "pragmatic," "improving society," "cares about people and social issues..."

Consider the example of this National Public Radio story that ran yesterday. It profiles CFI's Camp Inquiry, a "brain spa" as one camp counselor puts it. The story focuses on a community of open-minded, tolerant teenagers coming together to do all the normal things kids do at camp, but also to discuss philosophy, science, and religion. Rather than attacks and ridicule, the camp kids are focused on learning, reflection, and dialogue. Atheists are not "the other" in the form of an eccentric, angry old man, but rather community members like any other American.

This is the "new atheism" that we should promote, not an image of attacks and intolerance.


The other image of atheism: From the NPR segment, DJ Grothe leads a discussion with kids attending Camp Inquiry.

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Sponsored
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

Can the keto diet help treat depression? Here’s what the science says so far

A growing body of research shows promising signs that the keto diet might be able to improve mental health.

Public Domain
Mind & Brain
  • The keto diet is known to be an effective tool for weight loss, however its effects on mental health remain largely unclear.
  • Recent studies suggests that the keto diet might be an effective tool for treating depression, and clearing up so-called "brain fog," though scientists caution more research is necessary before it can be recommended as a treatment.
  • Any experiments with the keto diet are best done in conjunction with a doctor, considering some people face problems when transitioning to the low-carb diet.
Keep reading Show less

If you want to spot a narcissist, look at the eyebrows

Bushier eyebrows are associated with higher levels of narcissism, according to new research.

Big Think illustration / Actor Peter Gallagher attends the 24th and final 'A Night at Sardi's' to benefit the Alzheimer's Association at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on March 9, 2016 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
popular
  • Science has provided an excellent clue for identifying the narcissists among us.
  • Eyebrows are crucial to recognizing identities.
  • The study provides insight into how we process faces and our latent ability to detect toxic people.
Keep reading Show less

Want to age gracefully? A new study says live meaningfully

Thinking your life is worthwhile is correlated with a variety of positive outcomes.

YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images
Surprising Science
  • A new study finds that adults who feel their lives are meaningful have better health and life outcomes.
  • Adults who felt their lives were worthwhile tended to be more social and had healthier habits.
  • The findings could be used to help improve the health of older adults.
Keep reading Show less