August 10, 2012

Confronting My Own Hypocrisy

HypocrisyNobody gets up in the morning and plans to be more hypocritical that day. Hypocrisy is supposed to be something we try to avoid. And yet, far too few of us make an effort to spot our own hypocrisy. Even when it is pointed out by others, we react defensively because we do not want to see it in ourselves.

To my mind, part of what it means to be a freethinker is that I am obligated to take a look at myself from time-to-time. I've been doing so recently, and I have not been all that happy with what I've found. I've identified some areas of hypocrisy that need to be addressed.

First, I have realized that I have often given atheists a pass for behavior I would not hesitate to call out in religious people. When a religious person does or says something inappropriate, I call them out here. I do this all the time, and I rarely give it a second thought. But when an atheist does the same, I often hesitate (sometimes way too long). I've recently caught myself thinking, "Oh, that can't be what he meant. I must be misunderstanding." I am slow to respond, if I respond at all. This is hypocritical of me. Atheists should not be treated with kid gloves just because they are part of the in-group, should they?

Second, I recognize that I have precious little standing to complain about some of the bullying behavior occurring in the atheist blogosphere when I have been using some of the same tactics on the religious. I can complain all I want when prominent atheist bloggers refer to people who disagree with them as "vacuous shitbag trolls," but I've been doing something similar with my now defunct Idiot of the Week series. I can whine all I want about how these bloggers refuse to treat their fellow atheist civilly, but I've advocated similar positions for dealing with religious believers. And when these bloggers compare men calling women bullies with "white people calling a few black people who are being targeted by racist bullies 'KKK' and 'racist,'" it is tough to protest given that I've made some inflammatory comparisons of my own when focusing on the religious.

To be clear, I'm not saying I've done everything these bloggers have been doing. Much like what John Loftus described, I don't think I've gone out of my way to silence those who disagree with me. I've also tried to refrain from much of the name-calling I've seen here. But I've certainly guilty of the other mistakes, and that is important to acknowledge.

Third, I am far more likely to ask those with whom I disagree for evidence to support their positions than those with whom I agree. While I do not stoop so low as to use those annoying "[citation needed]" tweets or comments, I rarely inquire about the basis of opinions that are similar to my own. Unless I am reasonably confident that I already have evidence for these positions, this is also a bit hypocritical.

Finally, there is the matter of tone. I have tried to use a civil and respectful tone when addressing atheists, even those with whom I disagree on many other subjects. I'm not saying I've always succeeded at this, but I have tried. In truth, I cannot say the same thing when it comes to addressing religious believers. I'm not referring to respecting religious views here; I am referring to approaching the people who hold these beliefs with a modicum of civility. I haven't always tried to do this.

Now that I've identified some hypocrisy, I need to figure out what to do about it. Awareness is a good first step, but it is only a first step.