Fighting for Peace?

This post is a part of the Humanist Community at Harvard’s 2012 Blogathon, a 12 hour blogging marathon by Chris Stedman and Chelsea Link to support HCH’s end-of-the-year fundraiser. Chelsea and Chris are both publishing one new post per hour, for twelve hours straight, and none of the posts have been written or drafted in advance. For more blogathon posts, click here. If you enjoyed this post or any of the others, please consider consider chipping in to support our work.

I have to admit that I find this promise from American Atheists’ fundraising page less than comforting:

We are also continuing our work of getting Atheists out of the closet and building acceptance. From exciting billboards to various local protests and rallies, American Atheists is ready to fight for you!

It’s difficult to talk to my mother about my beliefs or my job. I always have to parry false accusations and tell her what kind of atheist I’m not before I can even begin telling her about the kind of atheist I am. I pretty much never make it through the first part.

I always start these conversations at a disadvantage because I have to combat all kinds of stereotypes and misconceptions about atheists – stereotypes and misconceptions that are strengthened every day by shenanigans like AA’s “exciting billboards.”

My mother is not stupid. There is a reason why she doesn’t understand my claim that the Humanist Community at Harvard is about building positive values-based communities for the nonreligious, and why she insists that actually atheism in all its forms is about “denigrating other people’s beliefs.” She thinks this because this is the public face of atheism that she encounters most frequently.

I’m not convinced that we’re going to “build acceptance” by “fighting.” I think we’ll do it by articulating our values – most of which will be extremely familiar to believers in a wide variety of religions – and then putting them into action in our real lives.

By all means don’t be shy about your beliefs. Tell your friends and family what you believe, why, and how those beliefs affect your life. And certainly don’t lie or pussyfoot around if somebody asks for your evaluation of a religious claim you disagree with. As I’ve said before, you can be perfectly honest without being aggressive.

But seriously, we are not going to get anywhere by being gratuitously obnoxious. The atheist/Humanist/secular movement needs allies, not enemies. So let’s drop the straw-man schoolyard taunts about myths and fairy tales and imaginary friends, and start making some real friends.

Chelsea Link is the Campus Organizing Fellow at the Humanist Community at Harvard.

5 comments on “Fighting for Peace?

  1. Pingback: Fighting for Peace? | NonProphet Status

  2. Pingback: Pamela Geller’s Anti-Islam Billboards, and Why Billboards Can Be Harmful | The Humanist Community Project

  3. “she insists that actually atheism in all its forms is about “denigrating other people’s beliefs.” She thinks this because this is the public face of atheism that she encounters most frequently.”

    But the problem is that this is not the only face. HCH represents a different view, so does AHA 99.9% of the time, so does the Stanford Humanist Community, so does the Secular Student Alliance. The problem isn’t a lack of diversity. It’s that your mom can dismiss atheists and Humanists easier if she pretends that they’re all like American Atheists.

    If the problem is that there isn’t a good plurality of views, then the other movement orgs need to do a better job of getting their message out into the public. But if the problem is that the American Atheist view is so toxic that it poisons people’s perceptions about Atheism, Humanism, and Secularism, I have to dissent.

    • To be fair Jonathan, how often do you see the HCH or the SSA or AHA put up billboards? Or get substantive media attention? When was the last time anyone from any humanist organization got as much airtime as dave silverman?

      The only reason the HCH got the recent media attention with Greg was because he contrasted so much with silverman.

      The type of atheist narrative put forward by Silverman, of putting up billboards and taking down nativity displays, is basically the dominant one. Are you seriously faulting someone for judging the loudest voices and not saying “well, there are some really quite and small groups that are okay. I guess that makes the loud ones just fine?”

  4. Chelsea:

    I’ve given it a good 24-hours thought, and I would love to engage you in an ongoing discussion on-line. Not really a debate, although that’s probably inevitable, but more sort of a civilized discussion between two individuals attempting to figure it all out.

    Maybe you will let me represent the archetype “spiritual but not religious”/”seeker” millenial who has arrived at the realization that I am pretty much alienated from organized religion, but still feel deeply spiritual. But edgy spiritual: prayer without ritual, ritual without prayer. Prayer as actually advocated by the Christ-figure: private, gut-wrenchingly honest, not for show but for humiliated and hopeful interaction with the Higher Power; for strength, for direction, in gratitude. Yet not Christian- just borrowing the description. Into the New Age thing, sort of, but not inclined to personal salvation through rock crystals. Might be a Wiccan, but hates how it’s been co-opted to mean adolescent rebellion. Loves liberal Judaism, but, well you basically took the words out of my mouth. Supposed to be Episcopalian, but finding that totally empty (I’d rather be a humanist). Tried protestant liberal evangelical until I was so nauseaous I had to turn away (see, I’d rather be humanist).

    In fact, I want to just go ahead and ask- do you see any categories/archetypes of positions in our generation? to sketch a suggestion:

    1) the basically-atheist seeker/community-congregationally affiliated;

    2) the basically-atheist non-seeker/not community-congregationally affiliated;

    3) the spiritual non-seeker/unaffiliated (yes to God, no to community);

    4)and then the spiritual religious (Higher Power and congregational affiliation)?

    You could also add, 5) the atheist religious (tradition/dogma only- no Higher Power belief)?

    6) the equivalent opposite (I’m losing myself here; there are background distractions)

    7) to paraphrase my thoughts, “and what about atheists who join religious congregations just for community”

    8) and let’s not forget “people who are basically Theists but kind of go with the Atheist thing because it’s just not a priority life-exploration?”

    (sorry, this is going to happen from time to time, esp when I’m caffeinated)

    I admit that I haven’t regularly read your blog, but I have (ok, super, super recently) attempted to read everything I could easily find links to. Surfing by through ungodly co-incidence right after the blogathon, I could not tear myself away. I’m noticing that there aren’t exactly a ton of comments(?) so I’m hoping I could be more of a minor opportunity than an annoyance.

    A couple of things: groan, yes, I have a pseudonym… nothing personal, I’m just completely paranoid about the internet. No, seriously, I really am. Not to get all weird, but to be upfront about that ;-) All in good fun. And good vibes: I mean, at least I’m not using a convincing-sounding fake name.

    Plus, I think it’s fun and I think it leads to more candid discussion. My hope is that one day we might actually be able to laugh about this proviso, possibly over alcoholic beverages, but right now I need to hold it.

    I’m only seeking semi-anonmity, because I’m about to provide you with the link to my own (far weaker) confessed blog detrius. And, frankly, there’s a vague chance that you would recognize me if you ran me over in a parking lot (although I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t). Plus, you might read something else over the holidays and completely get it. But I need to stay pseudonymed. Cool?

    Now, hoping the idea is selling itself to you, do you want me to comment using this site (where you do seem to be getting a bit more comment/traffic?) or the non-prophet site? It seems like you have cross-posted the blogathon, perhaps 1-2 other posts on this site, but the rest on non-prophet?

    My education is in no way equal to your own. But I feel that I can follow the gist of what you are attempting to define, ask myself the same questions (with different answers) and I will try my very best.

    oh yeah, my page thing that I may occasionally post on but am not seeking any links/publicity for:

    what i believe. sort of. subject to revision. (uh, gotta change that photo)

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