March 30, 2011

Former Atheist Warns About Dangers of Atheist Pride

atheist prideThis isn't an Idiot of the Week post, but it certainly could be. Jennifer Fulwiler, self-described atheist turned Catholic, wrote a piece in the National Catholic Register that manages to get so many things wrong that it is difficult to know where to start.

Her article initially appears to be a criticism of "A Week," but rapidly reveals itself to be little more than the sort of anti-atheist hit piece to which we've become accustomed. Fulwiler announces that atheists publicly proclaiming their atheism is "unhealthy." Her rationale, and I use the term loosely, relies primarily on the claim that atheists did not used to do this.
Back in my day, atheists didn’t walk around with signs that said “I am an atheist.” They didn’t put atheist pride stickers on their two-pound cell phones or replace their grainy yearbook photos with a red “A.”
Anticipating the obvious response to this, Fulwiler attempts to cut it off without providing any evidence to support her claim.
And, contrary to the modern atheist pride message, I doubt that the relative silence of history’s average nonbeliever was primarily motivated by fear of persecution.
Not motivated by fear of persecution, huh? I think she should speak with some atheists before claiming such a thing. Why does she think so many atheists have such a difficult time revealing their atheism to friends and family?

She goes on to say that the atheists she remembers from her youth were mostly ambivalent about identifying themselves as atheists. Of course they were! They had been taught to equate atheism with evil, with Communism, and with everything anti-American. And who do you suppose taught them that? Is it possible that Fulwiler has never heard of internalized homophobia? Is it possible that she really cannot comprehend how members of an oppressed and thoroughly demonized minority might be reluctant to embrace this part of their identity?

Instead, Fulwiler prefers to believe that we avoided calling ourselves atheists because we recognized that "defining yourself by what you are against isn’t psychologically healthy." How so?
By directing your energy toward overarching values to which you willingly submit, it acts as a check against the natural human urge to turn yourself into a god.
Submission to fictional entities keeps you from giving in to your base desires. Like many Christians, Fulwiler seems to have an extremely negative view of human nature. And this is especially true of atheists. We are selfish, determined to turn ourselves into gods, and committing the "sin" of pride.

But at least there is room in Fulwiler's worldview for some atheists. She is willing to accept those of us who know our place (i.e., those of us who are willing to keep our atheism to ourselves) and are willing to be "humble" about who we are. Of course, she's also willing to be up front about what she'd really like:
And so, to the folks participating in A Week, I would say one thing: Become Catholic.
It pains me to see someone like Ms. Fulwiler telling us that there is something not "psychologically healthy" about embracing atheism as part of who we are. As I psychologist, I find it thoroughly absurd. As a human, I find it morally repugnant. And as an atheist living in the United States, I find it not surprising in the least.

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