April 4, 2016

Treating Atheists Better Than Christian Extremists Treat Abortion Doctors

NewspapersA very small number of Christian extremists - a tiny fraction of the total number of Christian extremists and an even more minuscule percentage of the total number of Christians - demonize physicians who perform abortions, regarding them as agents of evil and comparing the work they do with the Holocaust. Almost nobody would be so misguided as to judge all Christians on the basis of this tiny number of Christian extremists. To do so would be the sort of gross overgeneralization those of us aspiring to be rational would seek to avoid.

Virtually no reputable journalist would write an article for his or her employer implying that all Christians feel the same way about abortion doctors as these few Christian extremists do. No reputable journalist who wanted to keep his or her job would write that the whole of Christianity has "a serious problem with abortion doctors." Such claims would easily be recognized as absurd.

A very small number of atheists - a minuscule fraction of the total number of atheists - demonize Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and many other high-profile atheists, pouring over their every word for signs of possible sexism, racism, and other offenses against the common good and then erupting in outrage when they think they might have found one. They fire accusations while ignoring all evidence to the contrary. The principle of charity holds no appeal for them. And inexplicably, mainstream journalists seem to line up to quote them in one-sided stories about "serious problems with sexism" and whatever else among atheists. In essence, they are inviting their readers to engage in gross overgeneralization about atheists.

Is this difference attributable to Christian privilege (i.e., attacks on atheists will be received far more positively than attacks on Christians), personal bias against atheists on the part of the journalists and their editors, or something else? Regardless, the following thought occurred to me as I read yet another one of these anti-atheist hit pieces recently:
Wouldn't it be great if atheists could figure out how to treat other atheists better than Christian extremists treat physicians who provide abortions?
It does not seem like too much to ask, does it?

Some will be determined to interpret this as me saying that we should give atheists a free pass just because they are atheists. That is not what I am saying. Not only have I never said anything remotely close to this, but what I have written on this blog over the years is thoroughly inconsistent with such a viewpoint. I have repeatedly demonstrated my willingness to criticize atheists, including those I like and respect, and have suggested that failing to do so exposes us to legitimate accusations of hypocrisy.

There seems to be an important difference between criticizing the ideas and/or behavior of other atheists and the sort of manufactured outrage (or "call-out culture" if you prefer) that comes from putting someone's Twitter timeline under a microscope, interpreting their words in the most uncharitable manner possible, and peddling the "story" to unscrupulous journalists willing to run with it.

Atheists do not get a free pass for being atheists. But the personal attacks, demonization of others, tribalism, and general pettiness of it all seems like things reasonable adults could learn to do without. And so, I aspire to treat others - other atheists and religious believers alike - better than Christian extremists treat physicians who provide abortion services.
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