Greg Laden, as always, has incited me into thought about a topic. My thoughts here are only tangentially related, and thus do not merit to be placed as a comment there, but I really think you should read his post (and the comment on it) as well as it could give you some insight into where my thoughts are going.
Humans are notorious for forming groups and coalitions (the enemy of my enemy is my friend) and these groups and coalitions rise and fall quite more frequently when we look at culture historically. (The religious right, for example, didn’t come about until the 1960’s and didn’t become particularly powerful until the 70’s and 80’s) These groups typically exhibit knee-jerk reactions of “if they agree with it, it must be wrong!” to all points from the opposition groups. I am unsure as to the cause of this, but I do certainly see its effects in current political exchanges-namely with Republicans voting against their own proposals. The point I think Greg was trying to make is that these knee-jerk reactions and statements of staunch opposition (bordering on hate-speech) to statements by religious groups should not be embraced or utilized and some of the rhetoric made by atheists can seem, to an untrained observer, to be endorsing intolerance or violence towards a specific demographic. This would make it possible for a very bigoted individual to easily hide within the group.
I’m not entirely sure if this was indeed his point, but this is what I gathered. Please, if I am wrong here, explain the error of my ways.
How difficult is it to distinguish between knee-jerk criticisms of religions and well-reasoned arguments? I would personally state this is quite simple by looking at the premises of the argument, but this oversimplifies a very complex issue. There are certainly legitimate criticisms of many religious claims and ideas, but this does not mean all claims from the religious are equally lacking in validity.
Here’s where I go off on a tangent:
I’m not going to say I’m a rebel (I’m really not at all) or that I have completely outlandish ideals, but the vast majority of atheists in this country (being a very tiny minority) are at least somewhat familiar with authority and “the group” being wrong. I’m not saying this makes it impossible for “group think” violence if a person we see as our “in-group” and a “leader” begins to incite violence or make hateful remarks, but it does make us more likely to question and criticize that individual without the support of other group members. If we put forth legitimate criticisms, we very well may convince others such criticisms are warranted.
I only explain it this way because, for example, think of the last time you heard a moderate Christian criticize a fundamentalist Christian, or the last time you heard a moderate Islamic cleric condemn terrorist acts in the name of Allah? When was the last time you heard an atheist criticize another atheist for being wrong?
You hear people of different religious factions criticizing each other, but since “atheist” is a description rather than a religion or belief, this means atheists diverge greatly from one another in ideas. This divergence means we don’t always agree unless there is sufficient evidence, and even among atheists, denialists exist. Then there are the soft and fluffy “new age” neohippies which generally describe themselves as “spiritual.” They generally get lumped in with the “other” category under religious affiliation.
Anyway, that was my tangent, someone point me in the right direction.