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.
Malcolm Gladwell teaches "Get over yourself and get to work" for Big Think Edge.
- Learn to recognize failure and know the big difference between panicking and choking.
- At Big Think Edge, Malcolm Gladwell teaches how to check your inner critic and get clear on what failure is.
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You can say 'no' to things, and you should. Do it like this.
- Give yourself permission to say "no" to things. Saying yes to everything is a fast way to burn out.
- Learn to say no in a way that keeps the door of opportunity open: No should never be a one-word answer. Say "No, but I could do this instead," or, "No, but let me connect you to someone who can help."
- If you really want to say yes but can't manage another commitment, try qualifiers like "yes, if," or "yes, after."
Three scientists publish a paper proving that Mercury, not Venus, is the closest planet to Earth.
- Earth is the third planet from the Sun, so our closest neighbor must be planet two or four, right?
- Wrong! Neither Venus nor Mars is the right answer.
- Three scientists ran the numbers. In this YouTube video, one of them explains why our nearest neighbor is... Mercury!
Neuroscience research suggests it might be time to rethink our ideas about when exactly a child becomes an adult.
- Research suggests that most human brains take about 25 years to develop, though these rates can vary among men and women, and among individuals.
- Although the human brain matures in size during adolescence, important developments within the prefrontal cortex and other regions still take pace well into one's 20s.
- The findings raise complex ethical questions about the way our criminal justice systems punishes criminals in their late teens and early 20s.
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