Of Good and Bad Atheists
I was a little surprised to make a discovery. I asked a few atheists I admire some questions. Turns out that many of Maher’s opinions about religions and religionists are shared by other atheists. This surprised me because these atheists did not so openly express their disdain for religion and religionists. I think this is a key point: bad atheists broadcast their disdain and arrogance to all who would listen, particularly religionists, while good atheists treat even religionists with respect and deference.
Good atheists, like my friends, also realize that reality isn’t black and white. Religion has its good parts and its bad parts; likewise, rationalism has its good parts and its bad parts. Religionists and rationalists pose threats to various people and interests, and one cannot demonize either side.
I admire these atheists. There are a number of atheists I admire, some of whom are S. Weasel, Uncle Badger, Steamboat McGoo, Ace, and WickedPinto. (I don’t know if Jeff Goldstein is an atheist or agnostic, but I admire him too.) These people are very tolerant of religionists. Every now and then, they will make sharp criticisms of religions and religionists, but they do this for everyone. They are fair and balanced. Such as good atheists. We religionists can get along well with them, despite deep differences.
An excellent example is the Prophetess of the West, Oriana Fallaci. She was a staunch atheist. But one man she admired greatly was Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI. She was a ceaseless critic of the Catholic Church but praised where it did things well. Good atheists realize the nuances of reality, while bad atheists (who tend to be overwhelmingly liberal, ironically) see things monochromatically.
Bad atheists are of a complete different breed. They are the ones who are corrupting the image of atheists. I had a friend in college who was a devoted (devout?) atheist, and most of us religionists initially avoided her. When we realized that her atheism doesn’t affect how she deals with us, we hung out with her. She was an awesome person, and while she would express how she disagreed with what we believed and did, she tolerated our beliefs and practices. She never tried to change us, and she never preached to us.
And this is the irony. Bad atheists, like Maher, are not much different from the people they are attacking. I classify them as evangelical, fundamentalist atheists, for such is what they are. They are evangelical in that they have this zeal to preach the Gospel of I-Don’t-Know (explicitly admitted to by Maher) to all and sundry. They want to convert all the world to their Gospel. How is this different from Christian Evangelical missionaries?
They have The Truth, which they adhere to. Maher showed an evident lack of open mindedness, which is ironic considering he was accusing the Christians of being idiotically close minded. He couldn’t even entertain a conflicting viewpoint: if it did not conform with The Truth, it was falsehood, a heresy, and he attacks it. How are these different from fundamentalists?
Like the religionists he attacks, he holds to completely false stories and beliefs, such as that more people have died in the name of God than any other cause, or that Christian fundamentalism is informing US government policy. Like the fundamentalists, no matter what evidence is brought to refute him, he will not budge. Bad atheists become no different from those they attack.
Good atheists are out there. And many of them have quite valid points. Let us religionists not assume all of them are bad atheists, like Maher. We can live in peace: the extremists on both sides don’t want us to, but then we shouldn’t be listening to them.
To my atheist friends: Thank you for being such wonderful people. I am blessed to call you “friend”, even if it’s virtually. You have enriched my life and my understanding of humanity.
To my religionist friends: Keep the faith. Idiots like Maher cannot bring us down. If we are built on a foundation like a rock, then floods and storms will not be able to shake us.
To both: Let us cooperate and deal well with each other, and not let the malevolent amongst us to sour our relations. Life is too short to waste it on useless and counterproductive battles or generating or wallowing in ill will.