Discretion is the better part of valor: militant atheism re-examined
I have a new addition to the repertoire of my overused phrases: “Discretion is the better part of valor”.
I like this saying because it embodies a lot of how I think civil people should act. Too often people are preemptively hostile, coming out with guns blazing no regard to whom, or in what context they are speaking. Too often people act too soon, too harshly, they fail to take into account a milieu of variables that are key in determining the outcome of a situation. People who lack discretion fail to see the big picture, seeing only what’s in front of them.
I used to be a militant atheist, I would enter into conversations about religion with my fists out and swinging, hitting as hard and as fast as I could. I can’t say this approach did anything for convincing anybody (just as those door to door Mormons don’t convince you of jack squat) but it did serve to alienate me from people who would otherwise loved to have had a civil discourse. I planted no seeds of skepticism, or inquiry, merely ones of cognitive dissonance and reactionary shouting matches.
I even got into a rather large fight with one of my very good friends because she claimed me talking about my lack of faith was belittling her actual faith. A terrible premise for an argument on her part, but nonetheless I can sympathize with her now, looking back. No, not because I actually agree that I was actively belittling her faith, but because I was doing absolutely nothing for fostering a rational conversation by shouting to the high heavens about how there is no god.
Recently I had the pleasure of being interviewed by a couple of men who were taking a survey surrounding spirituality and religion. Now, I don’t want to cast the light of suspicion too brightly on these upstanding gentlemen, but I suspect their primary motive was to proselytize a bit, but that’s okay I suppose, as they didn’t really try and convert me or anything. The fact that I identified myself as an atheist right away may have done something to deter that, but I digress.
They wrote down my answers to their questions so I have a vague, but probably misguided, hope that they were actually doing a survey.
Incidentally I gave them my blog address (what can I say, I’m enterprising). Hey fellas!
Anyway I posted about the experience on Reddit’s /r/atheism and received..well...not the reception I remember receiving for similar posts in the past. I urged people in the title of my post to remember that not all christians deserve the kind of derision, contempt, and blatant prejudice. What I received was a slew of frankly non-constructive comments such as “Fuck them all” and “Yes they do” (deserve our derision and hatred).
Let’s look really quickly at the etymology of Prejudice:
from prae- "before" + -iudicium "judgment"
So, as everyone knows, “to judge before knowing”. Isn’t this exactly what everyone on /r/atheism rails about constantly? Being presumed to be a satanist, a debaucherous heathen, or worse yet a rapist or a murderer?
We so often scoff at Christians who would ask us “well what stops you from murdering people without the bible?”, as they misinterpret our lack of faith and presume the worst in us. Yet we turn around and accuse all Christians of being bad people? I’m sorry (no I’m not) but despite the delusion we might assume they are under--believing in a magical sky fairy or however you want to put it--shouldn't we at least attempt to elevate the discussion, be the bigger men and women, and...you know...actually voice our opinions in somewhat intelligent ways?
Guess it’s just me then, what with my discretion and what not.Back to Blog