For all practical purposes, I am an Atheist. I lack belief in a God (or gods).
It is that, and only that, with which I can confidently say that I share with other Atheists. We’re a diverse group.
While there certainly are trends, we’re all individuals – our only shared ‘rule’ being to think for ourselves. In light of that, our specific attitudes towards religion itself are all placed on a spectrum: from outright anti-theistic to ‘whatever floats their boat‘-ness.
I, personally, am more inclined towards Dawkins’ or Hitchens’ take on it than not. In places, I see religion and superstition causing direct and measurable harm, and I feel that keeping this to myself is unfair – ultimately – to the victims.
But, as Dawkins and Hitchens don’t either (but are misunderstood and misrepresented as doing so), I, when criticising religion, am not criticising religious people just for thinking in a certain way. I may severely dislike particular individuals, but I do not see ‘moderate’ religious people as anything other than a little deluded. In other words: I disagree with the thoughts, but I do not think, necesarily, that the people are stupid or immoral for – as is likely – simply having been born into and brought up within a certain world-view. Plus, many leave their parent’s beliefs behind. Are they absolute idiots up to that point?
My specific use of the term ‘deluded’ should not be taken to be insulting either. It sounds it, I’ll give you that; but there’s simply no other way to express what I feel is an ignorance, whether wilful or not. I also detest the view that, say, those in the Middle-East ‘don’t know any better‘, or that us in ‘The West’ should avoid criticising certain practices in the name of cultural relativism. It’s both patronising and untrue – again for the sake of victims and individuals.
Anyway, before I outline every one of my opinions, it’s worth getting to the point of this post: is talking about these things, in public, an ‘obsession’ of Atheists?
I don’t think so.
There are a few things at play here. The first obvious one is that the view that it is is a misunderstanding. True, some Atheists talk about religion a lot. But, in day-to-day life, with friends, I only mention it if relevant… What, then, makes it relevant?
I think it being in the news is a definite example. This shouldn’t happen:
Person A: “Hey, did you watch the parliamentary debate on same-sex marriage?”
Person B: “Yeah, what did you think about it?”
Person A: “Isn’t it funny that every single person arguing against allowing it did so for religious reasons?“
Person B: “YOU’RE SO OBSESSED WITH RELIGION!”
But, what if ‘we’ do talk about it too much – like cracking jokes when it’s not relevant or wearing T-shirts like the one above? Does that make Atheists ‘just as bad’ as religious folk?
Seeing as that’s an argument that tends to come from the religious folk themselves, I’d wager that it’s a silly one. (Jokes aside) for more than one reason, it’s a misunderstanding. Asserting that Atheists are ‘just as bad’ as the religious for talking about it is like saying that news reporters are ‘just as bad’ as the murderers, rapists, and dictators they talk about. It also implies that, they – the religious people making the argument – are themselves ‘bad’ on their own terms.
Of course, the accusation can come from other Atheists too. They’d see the more ‘militant’ and vocal non-believers as being simply insensitive, while the supposedly ‘militant’ Atheists themselves would probably dislike (yet allow for) the more ‘live and let live’ armchair non-activism of their accusers.
As ever, it’s an issue of willingness to put one’s image of being ‘tolerant’ on the line for the sake of others. Do I criticise Islam, even with a chance that I’d be wrongly labelled ‘Islamophobic’ – or do I happily allow for Sharia courts to be set up in the UK in the name of ‘multiculturalism’? Do I publicly acknowledge the fact that women and children are losing limbs and being burned alive in Africa (and other places) directly because of superstitious and ignorant notions of ‘witchcraft’, or do I falsely rationalise it away as ‘what they do’ for the sake of not appearing too frank?
The list goes on.
What would make these ‘controversial’ thoughts and opinions of mine an obsession though? Here are some definitions of the word:
Is my intellectual and moral opposition of certain beliefs and beliefs systems, compulsive?
It’s certainly not irrational, or unhealthy. In fact, I passionately believe that open, uncensored criticism can only do good.
Do thoughts on religion ‘intrude’ and ‘trouble’ me?
The subject may be troubling itself, but I don’t think the thoughts are.
My point is; the definitions of the word ‘obsession’ tend to be overwhelmingly negative, but I do not feel that a desire to speak for secularism is at all. Plus, the only ‘compulsion’ to do so is external – religion itself, along with it’s devout and relentless minions.
Even if I were to concede that I am obsessed with religion, I’d point out that it is damage done in its name which compels me; making it a healthy one.
But, again, I don’t think that I am obsessed at all. I, like so many others, only ever talk about religion when necessary (or when funny), and simple confirmation bias and a selective memory (remembering the ‘hits’ and forgetting the ‘misses’) leads to the false conclusion that we infidels use every waking minute to rant about it. We don’t.
‘But you write a blog about religion!’ – it’s a hobby (and actually about a lack of religion). Get over it.
‘Tildeb’ has covered some of what I should have said, but forgot to, in the comments below. Check it out.
Did I leave anything else important out? I hope not…