A few weeks ago Martin Pribble posted an article on his blog entitled “A Rant – I Quit”. The article was subsequently posted on Slate under the title “Leaving the Tribe, Why I’m no longer part of the online atheism community.” and again on The Friendly Atheist’s blog. It would not be an understatement to say that the piece has ignited somewhat of a firestorm in the community.
The reactions I’ve seen are either “Who is this guy?” or “I hate those rude atheist trolls; we’re not all like that”. I think the first is pointless, and the second misses the point.
To me atheism is one thing. Or, more accurately, the lack of one thing – the belief gods exist. There is nothing more that can be said about a person if all you know about them is “they are an atheist”. This is a natural result of any group whose primary definition is what it’s members do not believe. I would hope it’s more likely they are also skeptical, rational, logical, evidence based, politically progressive, humanitarian, and compassionate, but there are no guarantees. There will also be a subset of the community who are aggressive trolling arseholes.
Whatever the goals of the “atheist community” I do not believe one single approach will work in all cases. What we need a multitude of approaches ranging from trolling arseholes to the almost apologetic (and completely awesome) Seth Andrews. No single approach will work with everyone; we need a Swiss Army knife, a large and diverse toolset.
You see, I think it’s entirely possible that a believer becomes so enraged by an arsehole troll they decide to collate the incontrovertible, verifiable evidence for their god. In doing so they may unearth some discrepancies, contradictions, or unfounded assertions they had not previously been aware of. They may be left with questions their friends, family, and pastor are unable to satisfactory answer. It is then they may be ready to have a discussion with a more moderate atheist, and this may be the arsehole atheist who started the process. You see, I think both personalities can exist within the one person. I know, because I see both qualities within myself. I also think the approaches compliment each other.
We can all be the calm, rational, sober atheist seeking to truly understand what theists believe and why. We can patiently probe their theological, epistemological, and ontological claims attempting to reconstruct coherent, valid, and sound syllogisms from the information provided and pointing out inconsistencies, contradictions, and fallacies where identified. It’s how I spend a lot of my time since I find it intellectually stimulating and interesting.
All of us also have the ability to be the in-your-face yelling arsehole atheist. On the whole I would like to think I have extraordinary patience with believers; I am honestly interested in what they believe and genuinely ask them why they hold these things as true. Some will call on faith to address problems, while others attempt to rationalise their positions with further argument with the later raising the inevitable question “why?”. But no matter how patient you are repeated evasion of central problems will eventually overwhelm your patience resulting in harsher words, and thereby attract the label “arsehole angry atheist”.
The reality is we can all be arseholes (even if only for a moment) and these outbursts can feed into the impression that all atheists are arseholes. While any group will always contain obnoxious people, I think most contain normal people who are capable of understanding and compassion, as well as bouts of naked abuse and ridicule. My reading of Martin’s piece is that he is tired of obnoxious atheists; including that aspect of himself. Martin’s made a deliberate effort to focus on more positive and constructive ventures on a wider range of topics. I wouldn’t say he’s really “quitting atheist activism”, but adding a healthy dose of positivism to a wide range of issues – and I can’t say that’s a bad thing.
@SevenDayAtheist That's my other reply 😃