On Atheist Churches and Community

Ray Garton really nails it in this post about a recent dust-up he endured on Facebook regarding the formation of an atheist1 church.

Atheist Churches: What’s Next, Vegan Slaughterhouses?

I don’t have much to add to his comments, as I agree with them in the majority. Like him, I used to be much more vocal and strident about my lack of supernatural belief, but I’ve chilled out recently because it feels like trying to ice skate uphill to attempt to have a civil discussion on the subject except in person across a table, one on one, over beer. And sometimes even not then. But I did want to make two points of my own to my fellow non-believers.

1) Even if things like ceremonies and rites are done tongue-in-cheek they are likely to be misinterpreted by people who are not in on the joke and whose ability to comprehend subtlety and irony is lacking. That is to say, there’s an element of Poe’s Law at work here. If you are unfamiliar with Poe’s Law, it goes thusly:

Without a clear indication of the author’s intent, it is difficult or impossible to tell the difference between sincere extremism and an exaggerated parody of extremism.2

Whenever we do things like hold debaptism ceremonies with hair dryers, wear noodle colanders on our heads as a “Pastafarian religious observance,” or attend atheist churches we run the risk that a large element of religious society incapable of understanding satire will have their preconceived notions about atheism affirmed and cemented: i.e., that atheism is just another religion. And since theirs is the One True Faith® ours is necessarily wrong. That is to say, whenever we do this we run the risk of undermining our own interest in being taken seriously as non-believers because this stupid shit can be dismissed as easily as we dismiss others’ unsubstantiated claims. Therefore, stop it!

2) The public visibility of atheists and atheism IS important. It is important that we not let others define us and continue to spread vile and unflattering lies (e.g., we’re America-hating Communists, we’re just angry at God, we are amoral/immoral, etc.). The problem is, atheists are made up of all kinds of people. As a demographic, our only unifying characteristic is a lack of belief in gods. I know liberal and conservative atheists, Libertarian atheists, Jewish and Buddhist atheists, gay and straight atheists, scientifically literate and illiterate atheists, and most importantly, sincerely decent atheists and some non-believers who are just outright dicks. If you want to organize a movement so that non-believers are acknowledged as your neighbors, friends, and relatives, by all means, do so. I will be the first in line to stand up and say, we’re here, and we’re not baby-eating monsters (although I suspect there may be one or two out there–see my previous statement about diversity). But I do not want to be a part of your “community.” What a paucity of character is on display when the best thing we have to celebrate is our opposition to something we don’t even think exists. Being recognized as normal people just like everyone else is very important. Building a wall around ourselves and establishing rites and dogmas and authorities who must be agreed with (I love the “Four Horsemen” for the work they’ve done to bring non-belief into the mainstream–but I will bend my knee to no man) is a disaster. Therefore, stop it!

My fellow atheists of all stripes, do good. Be good. For goodness’ sake. And stop trying to be like a church. You know that 90% of your problems with religion are actually problems with the organization of religion and abuse of authority that that organization breeds, and not that someone has a personal belief in something you don’t.

Atheist Churches: What’s Next, Vegan Slaughterhouses? | Atheist Oasis – A Rational Refuge

1 As Ray says elsewhere in his post, there’s no need to capitalize “atheist” because it is not a proper noun (by virtue of NOT being a religion).
2 Aikin, Scott F. (January, 23 2009). “Poe’s Law, Group Polarization, and the Epistemology of Online Religious Discourse”. Social Science Research Network. SSRN 1332169

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~ by poǝןɔɐɯ uǝʞɔɐɹq on 06/02/2013.

4 Responses to “On Atheist Churches and Community”

  1. As ever, Big Brother, you hit the nail on the head. Thank you for articulating what I have felt but have had a difficult time articulating. And pass the motherfucking beer. 😉

  2. I was just getting ready to write something on this subject, which is how I came across your post. I don’t typically capitalize atheism myself for just the reason you noted in your footnote. I need to go read more about this “atheist church”, but my instinct is against it for many of the reasons you just outlined. I don’t really need people with whom I probably don’t agree giving the public the mistaken notion that they somehow represent atheists. It’s bad enough that everyone is confused about what and who we are and thinks that Dawkins is our leader and The Origin of Species is the equivalent of a holy book.

  3. Usually, we just have brunch one Sunday out of the month and talk about shit, mostly non-religious, but sometimes, since it is mostly former LDS folk, there gets to be a bit of the support group dynamic going on.

    No Popes or sacraments, though.

  4. […] From poǝןɔɐɯ uǝʞɔɐɹq: […]

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