Recently, a frequent listener of Ask an Atheist gave us some feedback regarding the show’s tendency towards “bashing religion”. Atheists get that a lot; the old “If you make fun of the people who do awful things, you’re just as bad as them” rhetoric.
The listener stated that if it were their show about their own faith, they’d prefer to tackle philosophical conundrums and historical insights, rather than attack the philosophies of others. I don’t entirely disagree with the sentiment. Knowing the history of religion (specifically, of your own denomination) can be really cool. It gives you a sense of place and it’s interesting how and why the current denominations have come about.
Atheists are also interested in the history of their people. Unfortunately, in western society, most of that history was recorded by the people who persecuted them, and it’s not a very pretty history at all. I don’t think we’ve talked about that very much on the show, but I’m sure we could come up with an episode.
However, just by the very nature of our mutual histories with Christianity, Catholicism, Islam, and Judaism, the facts of the history of atheism don’t paint believers in a very kind light. That’s not really our fault, it’s just history. Much like how a history of slavery doesn’t paint Europeans in a very kind light, or how the history of women’s rights doesn’t paint men in a very kind light. You really can’t tell the story of atheism without mentioning that we’ve been beaten, exiled, tortured, and killed by believers for our lack of faith throughout most of our history.
We’re also trying to find our place in modern society, as atheists, and again, a big part of that identity is the people who wish we didn’t exist at all, or would prefer that we remained silent. Like other civil rights movements, the Atheism Visibility Movement is still in the “fight for your rights” part and we have not yet reached a place in society that is high or comfortable enough to JUST talk about ourselves, our movement’s history, and our philosophy (though we do that pretty regularly on the show anyway).
Part of what we are doing with this show is gaining visibility – not to “convert” other people to atheism, but rather, to let atheists out there know they are not alone; that they’re not the only ones going through what they are going through. Sharing our stories of the persecution and prejudice that we’ve faced, that we’ve overcome, and the battles that we are still in, helps us to find each other and unite. There’s nothing in the world like realizing that you are not alone, there really isn’t.
If we were a social majority with thousands of years of consistently recorded history, with political control, warfare, schisms, and all the interesting stuff that comes with them, our show might be a bit different. But I think where atheists are right now, we DO need to talk about the people and organizations that have declared us as their enemies. We DO need to talk about the people who extend their religious privileges to hinder or strip the rights of others.
It is unfortunate that some believers assume that all believers are under attack when we criticize things like the Bible’s endorsements of rape and slavery, or Sharia Law beatings and death penalties being enforced on non-Muslims. It puzzles me how people who morally oppose such cruelties will proudly defend the books and institutions that support them, rather than making an effort to change those ideas within their own religions.
Yet somehow, to these “good guy” believers, atheists are the “bad guys” for pointing out these crimes against humanity. It’s a classic “kill the messenger” scenario – for example:
1.) A religion is used to inflict suffering on others by denying their right to marry the person they love.
2.) Atheists point out that it is wrong to inflict said suffering, and that the scripture that is leveraged to inspire it is inconsistent and flawed in many ways, and perhaps should not be considered a source of ultimate morality.
3.) Believers (including members of the subjugated group!), call atheists jerks for pointing out this blatantly obvious fact.
4.) We talk about it on the radio.
5.) We get called jerks, again, for talking about it.
Wacky, isn’t it?
So anyway, that’s why the show may seem like we’re just bashing on religion at times. If religions weren’t being used to hurt people, we wouldn’t need to talk about it. In fact, we might not have a show at all. And yeah, sometimes you have to laugh about it, because it’s either laugh or cry, and no one wants to hear crying on the radio.