|Cover of Penn Jillette|
In this post, I'd like to address a topic about which I have been thinking a great deal lately: patience. And by patience, I am really thinking of how patient atheists have been with religious believers when it comes to the ignorance and bigotry that frequently comes our way. This is particularly true for those who represent the public face of our community to the news media. We have taken great pains to be civil, to be polite, and even to be respectful when met with ignorant statements made about atheism and about atheists. We have smiled in the face of these statements and sought to provide what might be described as firm but gentle correction. For the most part, I think this has been successful. I doubt we've changed many minds in the media, but I imagine some in the audience have questioned their preconceived notions about us.
Here's the thing - I am incredibly tired of being patient and seeing others be so patient. I recognize that I say this as someone who is incredibly impatient by nature, something I've long recognized as a flaw of my character. And yet, I cannot help myself from wondering how much longer we are going to play this game. At what point will we collectively say that it is time for the gloves to come off and for us to begin hitting back (verbally, of course) when it comes to persistent ignorance despite years of respectful correction and anti-atheist bigotry?
Let me give you a specific example of what I'd like to see more of from atheists who interact with the news media. Penn Jillette recently appeared on a morning news show to plug his book, Every Day Is an Atheist Holiday!, and encountered considerable ignorance from anchor Robin Baumgarten. When she suggested that the title of Jillette's book had an angry undertone, he did not merely smile and brush past the comment; he called her on it. Here's the video (if you have trouble seeing it here, you can also try this link).
I've never been a fan of Jillette, but he did exactly what I would love to see more of from atheists who appear in the media: he did not let ignorant comments slide but turned up the heat on the person making them. Best of all, he managed to do this in an assertive manner without seeming overly hostile. This is what someone who is confident and self-assured but who is also no longer willing to put up with nonsense might look like.
At some point, I think it is fair for atheists in the U.S. to expect that most our Christian neighbors can set aside their ignorance and bigotry. And if they do not, then I think we need to be increasingly comfortable calling them out for it in the moment like Jillette did in this interview. Are we at this point yet? I certainly hope so.
H/T to Friendly Atheist
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