December 29, 2015

Atheists' Words Have Consequences Too

Light bulb icon tipsYou know how many atheists (including this one) are fond of taking something a Christian (or Muslim) said and using it as an example of what some Christians (or Muslims) believe? As long as we're careful to limit ourselves to making statements about what some Christians or some Muslims believe and do not attempt to use it to characterize what all Christians or all Muslims believe, this is probably okay. We don't want to unfairly overgeneralize, at least not if we want to maintain any pretense of being rational and avoiding bigotry.

What I'd like to point out in this brief post is that Christians, Muslims, and other religious believers do this too. In fact, they do it with comments atheists make online. To the degree that we are worried about this, it might be a good idea for us to think before we post our thoughts in public online forums.

To be clear, I'm not calling for some sort of self-censorship; I'm suggesting some awareness that this sort of thing happens. Religious believers do sometimes read what we write online and do sometimes use our statements as a way of showing what at least some atheists believe. If we are bothered by this, we might give a bit more thought to what we write than we sometimes do.

For an example of what I mean, take a look at this post on Christian Examiner fittingly called Woman declares 'war on religion' in Facebook rant. After reporting on American Atheists' 2015 holiday billboards, Michael Foust shares a comment he found on American Atheists' Facebook page that includes the following:
I think it's high time we offend the Christians, blatantly. I personally think we *should* declare war on religion.
Fair enough. I suspect the person who left this comment is not the only one who feels that way. Some of you might even feel that way.

So what? The next time an atheist (like me) claims that most atheists have no interest in abolishing religion, we will need to be ready for the person with whom we are speaking to point to this quote as evidence that at least some atheists do seem to want a war with religion. And once again, as long as the statement is limited to some atheists, this seems fair.

I bring this up, in part, because I've been hearing from many atheists lately that "words have consequences." It seems like I only hear this in reference to scenarios when someone else is saying something we don't like. And so, I cannot help mentioning that if it is true that words have consequences, then it almost certainly applies to us too. That is, our words also have consequences. One of those consequences might be that what we say online sometimes reflects poorly on us.

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