October 23, 2019

Observing the Latest Atheist Drama Dispassionately

actor Bangkok Asia

It can be tough not to get sucked into various Internet dramas from time-to-time. I think it is especially challenging when the drama involves a community (or at least a few people) one cares about. This shouldn't be surprising. It is only when one cares that the drama seems like it might be important enough that one considers weighing in. Unfortunately, there seems to be no shortage of drama when it comes to people who promote atheism, skepticism, humanism, and or the separation of church and state online. Many people point out that it is detrimental, or at least counterproductive, but it continues. Old dramas persist, and new ones flare up.

I suppose this sort of thing is inevitable. If I'm doing something I value and consider to be important, I am not going to feel good about someone doing what I perceive as detracting from it in some way. I might decide that someone's poor behavior is making the rest of us look bad or even undermining what we are trying to do. At a minimum, I'd want to distance myself from such a person. But if I thought that what I was doing was sufficiently important and that the other person was that much of a problem, I might be inclined to speak out.

Since most of us recognize that constant infighting makes us look bad and makes it harder for us to accomplish what we're working toward, we tend to frown upon the drama initially. We mutter things like "grow up" when we learn of the latest controversy over which atheists are fighting one another. Many of us make a deliberate effort to steer clear so we do not contribute to the drama. And yet, we are not always successful in doing this. Sometimes we allow ourselves to get sucked in. Other times, we decide that we need to weigh in because things are getting out of hand or we do not want to be associated with such-and-such.

Perhaps the biggest challenge of all is that how we respond, assuming we do respond, sometimes reveals our own hypocrisy to the world. I can think of more than a few instances when I've tried to avoid a drama and made comments suggesting that I thought it was silly, trivial, or that we should be focused on other things. In some of these cases, I've failed in my efforts to stay out of it or changed my mind about the importance of staying out of it. When I weighed in, I instantly became part of the problem about which I had been complaining. That's not a good look.

Apathy is the easy way out of this. If I stop caring about whatever the drama involves, I can avoid it entirely. I see atheists doing that all the time. For example, some respond to the latest drama by saying that this is why they will no longer describe themselves as atheists even though they do not believe in gods. As understandable as it is that they would not want to be associated with morons, I'm not sure that this solution is optimal. Checking out, retreating into apathy, or giving up is rarely the best option. Unless we can make ourselves really stop caring, we are bound to end up resentful.

Fortunately, our choices are not limited to apathy vs. going all-in on the latest drama. We have many others. For example, we could keep doing what we're doing because we recognize that it is far more important than the drama. If what we are doing really is more important, why would we risk it for something far less important? We could view the drama dispassionately as an interesting curiosity and little more. In short, we could choose to act like reasonable adults who recognize the value of our work.