The Price of Hero Worship in the Atheist Movement

rantI haven't had a good rant in a long time. Hell, I can't even remember the last one. Brace yourselves because I may end up insulting almost everyone before I'm done with this one.

I am getting extremely tired of atheist celebrities. I'm not talking about celebrities who happen to be atheists; I am referring to people who seem to have gained an inexplicable sort of celebrity simply for being outspoken atheists. And it isn't even their fault! It is the rest of us who are so damned determined to turn them into celebrities.

[cue heavy sarcasm] Oh look, TAM is coming to Vegas! Just look at all the atheist celebrities! You can see Richard Dawkins, the man who has repeatedly been dubbed our leader! And what's this? There will be atheist bloggers (gasp) there like Rebecca Watson and Jen McCreight featured alongside highly respected scientists like Elizabeth Loftus and Carol Tavris. Think of all the autographs you could get! [end sarcasm]

Something has been nagging at the back of my mind ever since "elevatorgate" took over the atheist blogosphere. As much as it may have been about gender politics, civility, or the role of women in the atheist movement, I submit that it is also an invitation for us to examine something that has baffled me ever since I began blogging: the widespread hero worship of prominent atheists by many in our community.

Jen over at Blag Hag recently posted about her excitement over some upcoming atheist conferences. I think it is great that she's found something that makes her happy, but I can't say I relate. Why the fuck would I want to go sit in a crowd and listen to atheist bloggers whose only claim to fame is that they are...wait for it...atheist bloggers? Conferences like this hold no appeal for me whatsoever. And a big part of the reason involves the hero worship I see.

Have you noticed how the same names show up over and over on the list of speakers at these conferences? Well, here's the thing: PZ Myers is not a better atheist that you are. He does not necessarily know more about atheism than you do. Aside from being someone with whom many of us agree more often than not, just what is his claim to fame? Why on earth would I travel and pay to see him?

Richard DawkinsAnd what is with the damn bloggers thinking that they have something so important to say that it deserves a conference? If you give a fuck what an atheist blogger thinks, read his or her blog! And the groveling as if you are in the presence of greatness? You might as well go to church! They welcome that sort of thing there.

Dan Barker, Greta Christina, Hemant Mehta, Rebecca Watson, Richard Dawkins...none of them are better than you. None of them deserve hero worship. Let that sink in for a moment. Just because you agree with some of what Dawkins has written or admire his scholarly contributions is no reason to fawn all over him.

So what happens when Dawkins makes comments many considered inappropriate on PZ's blog? Not only is he thoroughly scolded (not going to say whether I think this was warranted), but several atheists claim that they've "lost all respect for him" or that they are actually leaving the atheist movement because of what he said. Really?

This is what happens when we put people on pedestals. This is what happens when we turn people into celebrities who don't deserve it. This is part of the price we pay for hero worship. Why so many otherwise rational people seem determined to do it, I'll never understand.