Careful, you might bring down atheism!
In the past, I’ve been critical of a number of atheists who have discouraged me from participating and expanding a broader secular movement. These ‘naysayers’ now have a name, according to Austin Cline. These are ‘Uncle Tom Atheists’, and they are, apparently, a big problem.
I’d like to start by pointing out how terribly insulting that phrase is. I’m not black, but I have many friends who are, and this moniker has a dark history in America. It symbolizes a divide in the African American community that discourages integration, and suggests there is a strict set of behaviors a black person should obey to ‘keep it real’. Ralph Nader called Barak Obama an Uncle Tom even before he’s taken one foot into the White House. Using the phrase is another way of criticizing someone who will not support your cause, and who you believe has betrayed your values. My message to Cline is simple: stop using words you do not fully understand.
I’m not always pleased many atheists choose appeasement with religion over confrontation, but I cannot blame them for their choice. We live in a largely religious world, and not everyone is equipped to pick up arms and ready for battle. Some just want to be left alone, and why shouldn’t they? There is nothing in the rule book of atheism that forces all card carrying members to act as representatives of the movement.
In my time managing the site and recording the radio show, I’ve talked to a number of different atheists about the future of secularism. Although many admitted they felt religion was getting a disproportional amount of attention and special treatment, it didn’t significantly impact their lives enough to make it an issue. One compared it to being single and working at a company with a bunch of people with families; sometimes you work late and they get to leave early because they have kids. Yeah, it’s unfair, but you still have a fucking good job, and you don’t feel like rocking the boat.
The livelihood of some can be threatened by their beliefs. That I kick up a dirt storm in a shitty blog does nothing to regain their lost opportunities. Turning around and insulting them for choosing appeasement over segregation would add only insult to injury.
I almost feel Austin wants a ‘them vs us’ world, where rational discussion and worrying about the feelings and hopes of other human beings are regarded as betrayal to the cause. What cause is worth fighting for when some want to throw other members under a bus for simply not seeing atheism the same way they do?
I for one would not be fighting for atheism if it didn’t embody the principles of compassion and tolerance associated with humanism. Obviously, the fact I do fight against the injustice of religion does not mean I am an Uncle Tom for not wanting my healthy relationship with my religious friends to be maintained. We should fight the urge to put labels on people as easily as our theist counterparts have done in the past. I personally find Cline’s arguments divisive, insulting, and bigoted, and I urge people not to use his new nomenclature.
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