Toxic Atheists?

Here's a two hour and fifteen minute discussion about TTA's recent podcast titled "Militant Atheism." I was one of the co-hosts on this episode with Reap Paden. Also appearing were Ernest Perce, Jeremy Smith, Jason Fegely, Carl Silverman, and Al Stefanelli.

The Thinking Atheist recently released a podcast titled 'Militant Atheists' in which he called so-called 'militant atheists' toxic. He said that some militant atheists are 'confrontational to the point of being toxic...and dominated by anger. He said that they are defined by said anger and put everyone off. For the militant atheist, he says, there is always insults, negativity, and controversy among many other things. He says that other atheists represent him "especially if [they] put themselves out there." If you wear an atheist brand...you reflect on everybody." Later, he said that some militant atheists are "wildly immature" and are "a horse's ass." He says, "I'm talking about people whose every action is to get in people's faces." He says that those who post things five time a day aren't well-rounded or real people. "It's nothing but name calling." "They bullhorn themselves and repel everyone in their zipcode. They have no idea how to empathize with other people."

I was a huge fan of The Thinking Atheist and perhaps still am. Before I was able to watch this podcast, I got a phone call from a fellow 'militant atheist' who was telling me about how horrible TTA's video was. I was told that American Atheists and the FFRF were attacked. So, going into the podcast, I was sort of biased because I was looking for what TTA said to validate this. Also, with another bias, I was thinking that TTA would never attack FFRF/American Atheists because I see him as in agreement with both organizations. Unfortunately, I was disappointed because the TTA didn't deliver with this podcast; his message was very unclear, he changed his definitions/never really used a well-defined definition, seemingly changed his ideas with every caller, and was generally very confusing.

My first major problem with TTA's podcast is his definition or lack thereof. It is very important, when having discussions about problematic terms or terms that aren't agreed upon, to very clearly define the terms (especially when the term is quite understood at a large level and then you decide to apply a different definition). When I think 'militant atheist,' and even when others probably think of this term, they think of atheists who are very public and who also think that atheism is very important. For atheists with 'the movement,' militant atheists are generally considered to be public atheists and the term is not derogatory. For some religious people, militant atheist is a derogatory term. What does TTA exactly mean? He is seemingly equating 'militant atheist' with 'atheists who are dicks.' This, though, shouldn't be the case. Why must activist atheists all be thought of as dicks? I'm not dominated by anger, insulting people, always getting in people's faces, or wildly immature. Fellow atheists actually consider me mild!

TTA seems to be talking about 'people on the fringes' or is otherwise attacking a strawman. He mentions no specifics in his show, which is another big problem. When The Atheist Experience did a show called "Foolish Atheists," they had a specific atheist on the show and talked about how his actions were really stupid and believed that they made atheists seem to have no sense of humor or be viewed as litigious. TTA, though, did not mention specifics and grouped all activist atheists as militants who are toxic. A better idea, I think, for his show, would be "Tips for Atheists" in which he gives suggestions for atheists on what not to do, but this was not done. He seemed to group everyone together as toxic. He's confusing passion with toxicity, it seems. I'm quite passionate about what I do, but I'm no 'toxic' individual who is 'hurting the movement.' I've even wrote about 'tips for atheists' a while ago, but didn't levy personal attacks at other atheists or lump everyone into one group.

As atheists, we're going to disagree with what other do and will not all believe the same things about which complaints/issues are worth pursuing, how we are to present ourselves in the media, what our billboards will say, etc. If we disagree with other people, instead of calling them toxic, we should voice constructive criticism. Isn't that how skeptics and mature individuals are supposed to act? TTA gave no suggestions for how atheists should act and also did not address specific badly behaving atheists; this is not constructive. What TTA did was simply level personal attacks at atheists.

It's also fallacious, in many cases, to believe that since some individuals share certain beliefs or characteristics that one individual will poorly reflect on all of these individuals or also represent everyone. It is quite obvious, to every rational person, that the Muslims who flew into the Twin Towers do not represent all Muslims. It's also quite obvious that PETA members who advocate violence against animal testers do not represent all vegetarians. Why, then, should one atheist represent all atheists?

If someone thinks that all atheists represent all atheists or otherwise believes that the actions of one atheist will cause people to view all who are atheists, their thinking is fallacious. To address the first part, there are specific groups and organizations of atheists. Leaders of groups may represent others, but individual atheists who aren't leaders of groups (and even the leaders of the groups) don't represent every atheist. For example, if a leader of an Alabama atheist group comes out and says that all religious people must be mentally retarded, he doesn't represent me. He makes himself look bad and he diminishes the credibility of his group, but this should be no real reflection on me. I have addressed this topic before and do not support such thinking, so how can someone whose beliefs I already disagreed with represent me? Even if I didn't address this in the past, we have to first understand that all atheists believe all sorts of different things; what one atheist says doesn't represent every atheist!

To address the second point above and to draw an analogy, some people think that the Westboro Baptist Church makes all theists or Christians look bad, but this is fallacious thinking. We understand that WBC is 'on the fringes' and is their own group. If we look at WBC members and say, "You make my neighbor Jill the Christian look bad," we're employing faulty thinking. While people might think this is the case, it's still faulty thinking that needs to be addressed. In the same way, people might think that atheist x might represent me, but this just isn't the case. If I am a member, though, of a specific atheist group, and its leader says something really stupid, he/she might poorly reflect me and I should rebuke said individual (and perhaps I am obligated to, but that's a story for another day. You can't just go to the KKK Klambake for the free food).

It may be the case that some atheists who are out there are doing really, really, really stupid things like going to churches and standing on the top of their cars shouting "There is no God! All religious people are retarded and are abusing their children!" after placing some hate-filled information on the windshields of every car in a parking lot. People like this are behaving in a very dumb manner, I believe, and should be addressed by atheists. The actions of this person, though, should not reflect poorly on me. What do I have to do with said person? Just because we both lack beliefs in any gods does not mean that our respective actions make the other person look bad.

I chat with Ernest Perce/"TheSaintsRevenge" quite often. I disagree with some of his tactics. I also am quite frustrated with atheists who I don't consider to be philosophically informed and present really piss-poor arguments against religion/gods. I also don't like atheists who are well-informed and intelligent, but don't speak out (even if anonymously). I also get frustrated when atheists can afford to 'come out,' but don't. I don't though, call these people 'toxic' or 'harmful to the movement.' I raise complaints, give reasoned arguments, and constructively criticize these people. I also get really angry, especially when homosexuals accommodate religion or make excuses for the Catholic Church when their rights are being violated or otherwise are trying to stifle equality. I try my best to not be a "horse's ass" and be as calm as possible. Just because we disagree with others, no matter what the issue is, does not entail that we must be 'toxic.'

Militant atheists are angry for good reasons...and don't necessarily (and more often than not) scream in people's faces or otherwise 'be dicks.' It may be the case that some atheists act in stupid ways or put a silly message out that I might disagree with, but we shouldn't levy personal attacks at these people or lump everyone together in one group. There are militant atheists out there who have reasoned messages, are productive, and would do exactly what I would do. These people who are 'militant' are different than the other 'militants,' but I don't believe TTA made this distinction.

Today, Reap Sow, the person who runs Reap Sow Radio, asked for TTA to come on his show and clarify his stances, but he refused to do so. I would like The Thinking Atheist to clarify what he said in his podcast and point to specific examples of people who he thinks are 'toxic.' I would also think that constructive criticism, rather than levying personal attacks at people while using general terms, should be the first line of response to the people he disagrees with.