May 9, 2018

Atheism is Not Any Kind of Organization

Atheism is a non-prophet organization.

Of all the atheist-oriented memes you regularly see circulating online, which one annoys you the most and why? There are many excellent candidates to choose from. For me, I think it would have to be this gem:
Atheism is a non-prophet organization.
Often attributed to George Carlin, this saying adorns t-shirts, stickers, and all sorts of other merchandise. It also seems to be one of the most popular memes I encounter online. I see it shared on Twitter at least several times a week.

I get the appeal of this meme. I can appreciate the clever play on words "non-prophet" brings. It is true that atheists aren't big on prophets, at least not religious prophets. And with so many religious organizations seeming to be mostly for-profit, I can appreciate that aspect as well.

So what could I possibly find annoying about this meme, aside from its popularity? One of the things I find annoying about this meme might be obvious. Atheism is not an organization. So while the non-prophet thing is clever, I have a hard time getting past the notion that atheism is any kind of organization, non-prophet or otherwise. Religious organizations are obviously organizations; atheism is not. Even if we might sometimes wish that atheists would organize (or at least show up to vote once in awhile), atheism isn't an organization.

The second thing I find annoying about this meme is probably less obvious. Although it is probably one of the less insulting atheist memes one could hope to find, it still carries a subtle hint of the idea that we atheists are more rational than those religious believers. Even if this was mostly accurate around the question of gods (which I'm not entirely convinced it is), I would not generalize beyond that. And I certainly wouldn't generalize to the idea of prophets in particular, since atheists have demonstrated a similar propensity to elevate people to celebrity status who have accomplished little, accept what they say uncritically, look the other way when they fail miserably, and all sorts of other things we eagerly spot among religious believers but often fail to recognize in ourselves. Sure, most atheists do not regard these people as prophets in the sense of accepting that they are receiving messages from supernatural entities; however, I have observed some atheists come awfully close to the idea of infallibility around some of their favorite personalities.

I don't consider this particular meme to be harmful, and so I have little interest in advising others against its use. But it is far from my favorite atheist meme.