How Internet Atheism Can Harm the Movement
At the University of North Texas, where I am a student of Political Science, when I would find other atheists on campus, it would be almost a knee-jerk reaction for the majority of them to ask, “Are you on Reddit?” I found it peculiar how popular the site is amongst high school and college atheists.
In my time as an atheist, which is to say about four years now, I have never really gone to the subreddit r/Atheism a whole lot. It is not because I have some aversion to Reddit for any particular reason. I simply prefer social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, and of course this blog, to get my messages across, rather than the forum style that Reddit has.
Recently I came across this piece from Vice by Luke Winkie, which is about six months old but is making its way around the internet once more, called “Hey Atheists, Just Shut Up Please.”
In it, he bashes what he calls “Reddit Atheists,” which he says are all “bitter, faux-enlightened young people” for their supposed “frothing-at-the-mouth ideological stupor” and their making of evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins as “their fire-and-brimstone pin-up boy.” First off, I fail to see why them being young is at all relevant. That is simply ageism.
Although Winkie paints with a very wide brush, and I personally think he is talking about all atheists, he does make a somewhat valid point about some atheists on the internet. Some, I will not say all or most because it simply would not be true, can be hateful towards those they disagree with, especially the religious (even though the religious can be just as hateful on the internet, just like everyone else). These people are simply the loudest and the most public though.
Winkie compares his “Reddit Atheists” to evangelicals trying to force God down everyone’s throats, which is only slightly a valid comparison. We will see all the time in the news about the crazy preachers who want to build a fence around all the gays so that they die off. They just happen to be the ones that get our attention for their outlandish statements and beliefs.
Same with atheists on the internet. That is why Winkie posts some of the most hateful comments he got from atheists on a piece he once wrote. I am sure there were plenty of comments that were not as vitriolic as the ones he talks about, but they probably did not get his attention like those comments did.
This is sort of how the Atheism+ movement, and I use that term as loosely as possible, got started. Those who started it did not see the comments that disagreed with them in a polite manner. They saw the ones that were completely inflammatory, just like how we only see the crazy preachers or how Christians only see the angry and loud atheists, and called them names like “bitch” or “feminazi” or were harassing them for being women or something of the sort, which I mostly deem as trolling and not as actual conversations or debate. This caused those initially behind the idea of Atheism+ to wall themselves off from any and all disagreement, an effect called “cyberbalkanisation,” where they could have an echo chambre where everyone agreed with each other, and anyone who disagreed (like Matt Dillahunty of The Atheist Experience) would be banned.
These are some of the ways internet atheists can harm the movement. It can split us off into warring factions like Atheism+ or make us look unappealing to everyone by how we act when we feel like we can express ourselves freely or when we think no one is watching.
This is obviously not an attack on the people of the internet. I am one of them and have been for almost the entirety of my time as an atheist. However, from the outside, atheism on the internet can look rather hateful.
Imagine this: You’re a person, a church-going Christian, who knows hardly anything of atheists other than what you have heard from your priests, which is that they are hateful, arrogant people that hate God and that want to take away your rights to worship God. You probably have never even met an atheist before (or at least, you met them, you just didn’t know they were).
You decide for some reason to just Google, as this is how most people learn about things these days, “atheists” or “atheism” to learn more for yourself, and the first thing that comes up is Reddit’s r/Atheism or a video by an atheist YouTuber or an atheist blog. Nine times out of ten, the stuff being said is going to be hateful, angry, arrogant, rude, and sometimes even bigoted things.
Not all atheist blogs or videos are trying to be offensive. Some Christians and other theists are going to be offended just by us disagreeing with their most sacredly held beliefs or even by our mere existence, but when our most popular venues are ripe with hate and immaturity, it makes us all look bad and reinforces that stereotype that atheists are hateful, arrogant people.
I am not saying that we need to change drastically and constantly watch everything that we say all the time, but we need to find a way to have a rational discourse that does not involve constant caps lock or calling people names simply for disagreeing. We need to have an image on the internet that is not this arrogant person that constantly talks down to everyone, even if it is tempting to do so. People are watching what we are saying. Let’s try to make atheism look from the outside like something that isn’t just for “bitter, faux-enlightened young people.”
One last thing on Winkie: among the many ignorant things in his article, he said near the end, “By the way, what is more arrogant than assuming someone can be reasoned into abandoning their faith?” He apparently knows nothing of atheists then. The vast majority of people who are atheists were once religious. I was a Jehovah’s Witness. My partner was Assemblies of God (one of the denominations who speak in tongues). To think that people cannot change their minds is naive, at best. At worst, it perpetuates the cyberbalkanisation of the internet and the aversion of atheists to reach out to theists in a polite manner.
Posted on February 25, 2013, in Internet, Religion/Atheism and tagged approaching theists, atheism, atheism plus, cyberbalkanization, hey atheists just shut up please, how internet atheism can harm the movement, internet atheists, luke winkie, r/atheism, reddit, reddit atheists, vice. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.