Atheism, Civility, and Peace
by Bryan Cain
Atheism has a problem. Religion has long been regarded as off-limits for conversation. The religious are quick to accuse discussion of being an attack. However, many atheists see religion, or perhaps difference of religion, as one of the reasons for the turmoil in the world. We are able to step back, as Christians and Muslims seek to murder each other, and imagine a world free from religions that are willing to kill for their beliefs. We want to talk about it. We want peace, and right now, violent believers are an obstacle to that peace. So how can we civilly discuss an issue with a person who thinks the discussion of that issue is uncivil? I will tell you how we cannot do it.
We cannot do it with personal attacks. Most atheists are civil, but we have all seen atheists like YouTube user sykeo123 , whose disdain for religion has led him to personally attack believers themselves.1 His is the first comment on user Rezerrekshon’s video, Question to Atheist:
“Hello uneducated trash,
O okay a question WOOOT
There is two type of christians those that are brain washed uneducated filth
and those that are uneducated brain wash filth2”
Sykeo123 claims to have a Masters degree and teach at a university. Atheists, go ahead and insult the religious for being douche bags, if they are being douche bags. Do not personally attack them for their religion. There are many religious people who are civil, and good, and who do not deserve your disdain. They may be enabling their violent peers, but they are not doing so on purpose. You can feel superior – everyone does – but don’t lose your civility. You don’t need to respect the theist’s belief, but hold yourself to a higher standard and respect them as a person with a different perspective by being civil.
We also cannot have a civil discussion if we think they are stupid. 55% of atheists are under 35, according to a Gallup Poll in 2006,3 and I’m sure that percentage will go up. More young people are atheists because we have access to, and are fluent in, the Internet. Never before has so much general knowledge been available so quickly. Our generation spreads information faster than any before us, and not just a little bit faster, the rates are astounding. In 2010, Twitter had 50 million tweets per day. Facebook had 60 million status updates.4 It is easy, therefore, as a young atheist, to forget that not everyone has the access to the information we do. Some people don’t have computers. Many in our parents’ generation are at work, providing for their families, and don’t have time to read articles and watch videos as we do. There are any number of reasons why a person does not have the knowledge you have. It is understanding and dialogue, not ridicule, that will win the day.
We cannot help but disrespect most theists from their perspective. The mere discussion of religion does that. Most theists believe it is disrespectful and uncivil to question a person’s religion, but we believe we must if the world is to have peace. However, we can respect them from our perspective, as people. We can be civil. We can encourage our fellow atheists to be civil. Do not attack theists and do not see them as stupid; see them as people with a different perspective. Respect them. Teach them. Encourage them. Love them. They are, after all… your family and friends.
1. http://www.youtube.com/user/sykeo123 – Accessed 11-5-11
2. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=beIhJebDPTk – Accessed 11-5-11
3. Kosmin, Keysar Secularism & Secularity: Contemporary International Perspectives, by Barry Alexander Kosmin, Ariela Keysar – Accessed 11-5-11 via Wikipedia
4. http://searchengineland.com/by-the-numbers-twitter-vs-facebook-vs-google-buzz-36709 – Accessed 11-5-11