Monday, October 19, 2009

Rift Between Atheists?

NPR's Morning Edition had a story today called, "A Bitter Rift Divides Atheists." You can listen to the piece or read it at the link. Essentially, it argues that there is a division between atheists who want to openly attack and ridicule religion, and those who favor treating the religious with more respect, and focusing primarily on thoughtful critiques of religion. In my opinion, calling this a "bitter rift" is a major overstatement, which also gives the false impression that atheism forms some sort of cohesive movement.

Atheism isn't a movement or an organization. It isn't a religion to be divided by a schism or rift. The only thing all atheists agree on is that they don't believe in gods. Opinions on how atheists should approach criticizing religion varies wildly, and depends on each circumstance in question. For example, I often find atheist attacks on religion pointless and counterproductive. In my opinion, expressing open hostility and contempt for religion, when it isn't necessary, simply makes believers hate atheists, and gives credence to those that think atheists are close-minded, anti-religious bigots. But it all depends on the circumstance and the venue. Sometimes an aggressive religious message or claim deserves an equally harsh atheist response.

Being an "in-your-face" atheist while talking to a believer will likely get you nowhere. But in more impersonal formats, such as online, or in publications, I think ridicule of religion and religious beliefs have a place. If I'm talking with a believer (assuming he is behaving in a decent fashion), I'm going to listen to his arguments and attempt to counter them in a respectful manner, pointing out why I feel that they lack any evidence supporting them. I don't have to respect his beliefs in order to be tactful and respectful of him as a person. But if I'm writing about his religion, rather than addressing him personally, I will be much less constrained.


  1. All I had to read was the headline to roll my eyes. What would a "bitter rift" between atheists look like? Do they delink each other's blogs?

  2. Yeah, or maybe write a couple of nasty e-mails.

  3. This rift unfortunately seems to be attached to every group or perceived group of people who are lumped together for no other reason than they share a single belief or opinion. Some people know how to be civil to each other, and some do not. Those who do not, consistently tarnish the reputation and character of those who do AND - they get all of the attention!