April 13, 2007

Call Us Passionate Atheists, Call Us Atheist Activists

Velvety Passion Flower
Velvety Passion Flower (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Ever drawn to conflict, real or imagined, some in the news media are now trying to make it sound like there is a great split in the atheist community over how vocal we should be in our criticism of religion. I am not convinced that this is a real conflict, but there are clearly differences among atheists in what is perceived as our responsibility to society.

The mistake the media is making, as is its tendency, is one of oversimplification. Sure, there are atheists who just want religious people to leave them alone and who have little interest in expressing opinions contrary to religion. There are also outspoken atheists, activists working toward meaningful change. The problem is that most atheists fall somewhere between these poles such that any artificial dichotomies will be misleading.

It is interesting that the question buzzing around the atheist blogosphere is what to call atheists who tend toward the outspoken pole. One rarely hears people asking what we should call the atheists who just want to avoid any meaningful debate or controversy. Could this be due to the fact that this is exactly how believers wish we would all behave?

As I have previously tried to show, there is no such thing a "fundamentalist atheist," as this is a contradiction in terms. While Similarly, while it may be possible to imagine a "militant atheist" taking up arms against believers, this is the stuff of fiction and can be discarded rather easily. I have suggested that there may be a tiny minority of my fellow atheists who could possibly warrant the label "atheist extremists" because they could be imagined engaging in the sort of irrational thinking which characterizes all forms of extremism. But even if this is possible, it is extremely rare and none of the media's favorite scapegoats fit this mold (e.g., Dawkins, Harris, etc.). These men are passionate, but their arguments are far from irrational.

So what should we call the outspoken atheists who rightly criticize religion and work toward positive change? Call us passionate "atheist activists." And yes, I happily count myself among them. We are passionate about what we are doing because it is personally meaningful to us. We care about our fellow humans and want to help make the world a better place, free of superstition. We are activists because we work for positive change. Much like the activists of the Civil Rights era, passionate activism can accomplish worthy goals which originally seemed impossible.