In 2004 my aunt gave me Sam Harris’s book “The End of Faith” with little comment other than it wasn’t her kind of book. I loved it. Over the years she has become more conservatively religious and I have come out more and more. It’s been a long journey as I have been a life-long atheist with few people to discuss who we are and how we are different than converts, no offense intended. But the issues that strike us as salient are often different. We don’t talk about them because it actually leaves most atheists out since so many have converted out for intellectual or abuse reasons.
How to express the deep meaning to me when at 11 I rebuilt the family Creche with lights and switches and then cried my ass off late that night because the story meant nothing to me, sounded so horrific, and I felt so empty in the face of others loving it. Others got abused and left. I made lights and got disgusted and sad to tears.
Points of confusion like religion as comfort; it had never comforted us. Religion as utility; it has not helped us nor does it seem to really help others. Religion as freedom; have never seen religion as freeing people. Religion as normal or natural; huh? Religion as effective impulse control; so many better methods. Religion as governance; huh, aren’t we living in the US? Religion as traditional; so varied in its history and so broad in its diversity as to be meaningless as any kind of coherent tradition. Religion as political; how the hell did this happen?
My spouse fought my growing intensity in response to the political push of religion saying I should choose a more tangible and universal target like LGBTQ rights. Who would guess this advice back in 2002 to me would become so prescient–millenials claim this issue to be a major reason for their interest in atheism and the doubling of nones in a decade–with a big push back to spiritual but nonreligious. It’s not god they fear but lack of social justice.
Really? For me it was obvious that a lack of belief entailed some conclusions about accepted morality and governance. But every sacred text had to be criticized separately because the only things they have in common are superstitions and circle-jerk, power grabs. Very hard for me to see good intentions in any of it but for the particular. Individuals could be moral in spite of being religious. Usually because they were abandoning the heinous part of their religious canon or dogma, using the best phrases and ignoring the rest regardless of how they are connected. Natalie Portman a self stated atheist has married Jewish and commuted to Israel. Drew Barrymore married Jewish and says she loves it, the family and community aspect of it. Jody Foster a big atheist says her family celebrates all of the religious holidays–a utilitarian frenzy possible only if one doesn’t give a shit about the philosophy and tradition of them.
Katha Pollit says religions will only morph and Jesus will really be gay and Eve a brilliant innovator that created freedom for all people by insisting that we gain wisdom. The snake will be seen as a universal, historical sign of good will, especially when shown as a circle with the head eating the tail. After all snakes eat rodents and varmints and help keep disease away–cultural materialists will find still-practical reasons behind the ideology.
Self-censorship is becoming endemic. I won’t tell you what I am really like because you may shun me. Trolls, friends, neighbors, and software all will keep you censoring yourself. I quit Facebook because it would jeopardize my family and my career possibilities–oops there it went. The quest for friends and a good fit causes us to lose our identity. I should just lie? We are now to be made in others’ image and that image has been crowd sourced. The purpose of privacy was diversity amidst intolerance. How much of your life do you really want everyone to know? We need the space to be different and often that is a private space. Social media emphasizes self censorship to make you acceptable. Thanks. Now I am no more myself than another’s opinion of me. I am now fucking afraid to Google anything because it can haunt me years and years later. Freedom is nothing left to lose? Bullshit. They can always arrest you.
For me, these aspects drove me to become more derisive while hiding out in my own extended family. Mostly because I wasn’t willing to divorce to fight atheism more openly–I married a dynasty (albeit low-key now) not a family, not a person. Yet, if I did I would get more hits, more news, more publishing, and on and on. Ad revenue will make sure of that.
The social and community aspects have become so supercharged. Like “deviant” school kids it’s not a gang, it’s a club and the club gives me everything I need. People will do anything for community and social inclusion. Really? Isn’t this too much like being a self-hating atheist? Isn’t this like being afraid to go all the way because….because why? I really don’t know why? In the face of the religious that are absolutely sure of what they believe should I demure?
By contrast, I view as counterproductive the stereotypical “self-hating atheist” who—maybe even subconsciously—buys into an unexamined presumption that somehow it is actually more correct, appropriate, and polite for nonbelievers to be less aggressive than believers in publicly promoting our worldview
Other atheists may not disapprove of more assertive arguments on principle but think that we need to adopt a more restrained approach on tactical grounds, perhaps because the dominant religious culture is still so formidable that our current efforts to chip away at it need to be more subdued. I disagree. Moreover, I would argue that if nonbelievers face social disapproval because we exercise the same rights to assert our worldview as do religious proselytizers, then this social disapproval in and of itself becomes part of the phenomenon of social repression that we must work to overcome.
By focusing on social justice issues we do much good and gain support. But now there is a huge group of atheists that are not being represented and also censoring themselves. The recent CPAC refusal to allow American Atheists a booth supports the deep desire and need to marry conservative issues with religiosity, uhhhh, confirm that conservative and religious are synonymous. Otherwise they would have to embarrassedly admit that religion as a required force for all people was not supported by the old guard of conservatism like Barry Goldwater. Many, many old-time businessmen believed religion was important to them but not a requirement in business or governance.
It looked like libertarians were going to continue this but they were absorbed, usurped, by the Tea Party. Yet, how many libertarians are out there that are atheists? Hmmm. Do you hear their voices? No, they self censor themselves. I guarantee there are plenty of atheists that don’t support welfare, abortion, market regulations, environmental regulations, voting laws, and a host of other conservative issues. Are they quiet because they think that atheism is the single-issue in these politics or are they just being quiet because they don’t want to be fed on by their own kind, other atheists?
Indeed, we haven’t heard much here but for the ego-blasting infighting of male rights activists and secular groups that now have, gasp, women. Women who are still way too tired of male bullshit and the terrifying cacophony of trolls that should clearly be silenced by any means necessary. It hasn’t been since Robert Bly began beating drums and forming male circle-jerks, uhhh, drumming circles that women have seen men as oppressed too and in need of like-gender space for reasons other than ingrained separatism. Susan Faludi lost many feminists when she wrote “Stiffed” which pointed out how men are being screwed too–yes, Virginia, the system does fuck everyone but especially women. The most resonate take on Miley Cyrus by Gloria Steinem was that it was the system that should be criticized and not the women who learn how to succeed in its apparent prurience (how sexuality became prurient is another puzzle). Wouldn’t the thing to do then be to attack the entire system and leave our brothers and sisters alone? We still have to eat while we protest.
That’s where self-censorship hits the rubber. If you don’t feel safe you won’t say shit. Unless you have that kind of personality. Women shouldn’t have to self-censor themselves to make peace either.
When women pointed out how atheists are still sexist assholes we all had to wonder how in the hell is morality going to play into atheism? It seemed so obvious and then…all those quiet women started bitching, so we said. And it was good. Yep, it was good because the discussion had to occur. No more self-censoring from women. Men did push back poorly but men too would benefit from saying the system is fucked and refrain from eating its members or shunning them. And yes men had to shut up and listen–what a pleasant change. Hopefully, now the discussion can continue to greater meaning and men can contribute in less manly ways. The first thing is to get everyone to show up and everyone to feel safe. Well, it would help if men showed some semblance of having read or partaken in any kind of gender-issue education. And women too. Astonishingly, women show ignorance in their own history, which speaks volumes but not against them.
When the oppressed scream…when women atheists pointed out that atheist men were still being asses and women didn’t want to discuss basic gender issues and rather atheist issues, the boys came out and cried self-censorship or just plain censorship. Odd? This “me too” free speech bullshit and my support of the women will certainly gain me ire but fuck it.
Outside atheist circles the single biggest criticism is that atheists are too critical. Jonathon Haidt has said he has found atheists use more words of certainty than religious authors. What he doesn’t get is that’s the point of science, to be more certain, to predict better, and to understand more. All Haidt shows is that science is more true. There is also the polemics, rhetoric of criticism. Minorities fighting for their rights generally use stronger language than their oppressors to make a point, gain an audience, and show they have just reason for their position. They are pissed and have to show it to get attention. If you can’t show the evils then how do you create change?
Again in 2006 or so another of my family members said atheist militancy was going to destroy the movement. The movement doubled. This desire to not make waves because it causes an equal pendulum swing is bullshit. The McCarthy era and abolitionism both showed how much emotional intensity creates lasting change. The first negative and the second liberating.
A recent republished photo of Malcolm X with a raised carbine had to be retracted because his own family thought it cast a bad image. What? They lost a beautiful opportunity to say black people have had to defend themselves any way they can in spite of the Civil War and in spite of the Civil Rights era. (The Tea Party should be proud and if he weren’t so black they would show the photo as proof that US citizens truly need arms to prevent being murdered. No, just black people insisting on their rights. Just more so than whites. They assassinated Malcolm X at a rally in a ballroom.)
I have supported civility but San Romero is also right that the abuse of civility and even civility itself is a way of ensuring self-censorship. Civility is a kind of universal self-censorship with the assumption that you will be heard in turn. Would that the mores of it be agreed upon by all but often they become traditional, empty, flaccid, without meaning. If civility is failing its purpose of allowing greater inclusion then it is corrupt and should be changed. I once bought a suit purely for a single legal appearance–civility is a privilege and that’s a problem.
Now that 20% of people are Nones and young people are showing greater numbers it is tempting to tone it down. Yeah? To please the shrieking conservatives, nonatheists, and moderates that don’t like to hear a shrieking voice back? Doesn’t that feed in the mindset of CPAC that only the righteous can shriek? And only religious conservatives are righteous.
The best oppression is the one that demands no work. Self-censorship is a beautiful construct. You don’t have to flagellate the public, they’ll do it themselves. And they’ll do it thinking they are being more civil.
An ethics of care is tempting–we’re just trying to make everyone well; attentive, responsible, competent, and responsive. When is it permissible to say you are very, very wrong, very, very loudly? If you lose your voice or cannot be heard you cannot care and are a slave. I cannot sleep with that any better than I cannot sleep because I’m pissing off someone.