August 4, 2007

Give Dawkins Money or You're Not a Real Atheist: Postscript

I really appreciated all the thought-provoking comments I received on my recent post, Give Dawkins Money or You're Not a Real Atheist. However, a few of the comments and some of the e-mail I received indicate that additional clarification might be beneficial. I am saddened to receive correspondence suggesting that my disagreement with either Richard Dawkins or PZ Myers is somehow harming the atheist movement. This sounds dogmatic, and this is something I think we need to avoid.

First things first, I have the greatest respect and admiration for PZ Myers. I have a category in my RSS aggregator called "Best of the Best," and Paryngula is one of only four feeds there. When I am running short on time, these are the feeds I check first. I commend PZ for putting a public face on atheism because I know what courage this takes.

Having said this, I do not necessarily agree with everything PZ says. We are not the same person, and it seems absurd to expect that we would agree on everything. In fact, I am quite confident that PZ himself would prefer that I have independent thought rather than simply mirror his views. I like it when he posts views that differ from mine because it leads me to examine my beliefs and gives me an opportunity for growth. I would be that he feels the same way.

I also have great respect for Richard Dawkins, but once again, I do not agree with everything he says. I think that those who would hold him out as some sort of atheist prophet are making a mistake, but that is because I reject the idea of prophets and not because I dislike Dawkins. Again, I fully expect that he would welcome and encourage disagreement.

In truth, I have no beef with the OUT Campaign. If it encourages those atheists for whom "coming out" is relatively safe to do so, I'm all for it. I would hate for it to push naive individuals to face unexpected peril simply because they were trying to fit in with their atheist associates, but I recognize that this is still a personal choice which must be made by every individual. To those commenters who noted the value of remaining vocal about atheism, I couldn't agree more.

The source of my disagreement, and the central focus of the post in question, was the statement by PZ Myers that people with negative reactions to the campaign should not "try to claim that you're helping." Some commenters have suggested that I misinterpreted this statement (or at least the intent behind it). They may be right. PZ himself left a comment indicating that he did not mean that wearing Dawkins' A is required to help the campaign. I appreciate his willingness to clarify this point, as it appears that I misinterpreted the statement.

To the commenters (and those who e-mailed) who criticized me not for what I said but for the fact that I expressed disagreement with Myers and/or Dawkins, it seems as though your primary complaint was that my expression of disagreement was not good for the atheist movement. You may be right, and this is something to consider. And yet, I believe that freethought must remain a central component of any atheist movement that is to succeed. I think meaningful criticism should be encouraged as long as it doesn't turn nasty.

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