I recently blogged about Religious dogma and hate, where I threw a spotlight on the worst type of bigot – the religious “true believer”, that type who believes it’s their God-ordained mission to make war on all those who make known any opposing view. But I’ve realised I left out an equally unhelpful, bigoted, rabid group of “true-unbelievers”, the militant Atheists who for some reason believe it is their mission to attack people who publicly express their faith.
I am an atheist myself, and it took me almost thirty years of reflection, contemplation and self-analysis to get to that point. Throughout the years I’ve gone from blind-faith as a child, to ‘non-mainstream faith’, which I described as “spiritualism” throughout my teens and early twenties, then a kind of belief in the Gaia “mother earth” view, where deities were replaced with a “natural system”, to my current resting point which I call WYSIWYG – what you see is what you get.
This journey was personal, mostly introspective, occasionally shared with others during quiet, respectful discussion of their and my views, but fundamentally and most importantly MINE. I was not coerced, berated, hated or persecuted. I was free to make this journey in my own time, in my own way, and haver never felt the need to force any of my views, which are entirely unprovable and unfalsifiable, on to anyone else.
Since my entrée into the world of skepticism I have been exposed to some of the most inspiring, well-rounded, sharing and dedicated people I have ever encountered. One of those people is Dr Pamela Gay, Astronomer and Associate Professor at Southern Illinois University, and co-host of the brilliant “Astronomycast” podcast.
This-morning I awoke to this disturbing Tweet and Facebook post by Pamela
“As someone getting hate mail from atheists & Christians, I have to say the atheist hate mail senders do a better job at filling my inbox 😦 “
The Facebook post then spawned lots of discussion, mostly very supportive of course, since all commenters are Facebook “Friends” with Pamela. Pamela responded to the group with the following:
“Thanks everyone for all your overwhelming support. It was just one of those morning where I was up far too early working and first I got my daily comics, then I got an email that looked professional and, uh, wasn’t, then it was the regular Monday attack on my blog … People say not to care, but I have to admit it really bothers me when anyone decides their best way to change the world is to say hateful things to strangers like me. This isn’t the type of world I want to live in. While today it was the atheists, back in March it was the Christians. Both sides have a deafening minority of people that make it hard to focus on education and research and actually making the world better. It is a waste of energy – including my energy if only because I have to spend time ejecting them from my inbox. I am a fan of rhetoric and debate over coffee (or depending on the topic, something differently strong), but there is a difference between agreeing to disagree while trying to understand one another and out right condemning someone who is different. One way of living builds communities that are diverse and interconnected. The other just increases my desire to hide in my little home office and not come out again. I know people are good – every meetup reaffirms that there are a lot of you out there worth knowing – but on Monday morning very few people have a checklist to write kindness-emails to like minded souls. Sadly, extremists on both sides have lists of people the send weekly hate to. I’m now one of the hate receivers. I can take it. I just don’t have to like it.”
Now I want to say this: It doesn’t matter whether you call yourself an Atheist, a Christian, Muslim, Jew or whatever – if you attack people for simply having or lacking certain beliefs, you do yourself and your belief system a disservice. People like Pamela have already done more for the the world through their contributions to collective wisdom and education than any small-minded, hypocrite with a grudge could ever lay claim to. By attacking strong, dedicated, tolerant heroes like Pamela, all you do is spread hate and poison society.
And to Pamela I say this – I know you’re strong enough to take it, but you’re right – you don’t have to like it. I don’t like it either, and I will absolutely defend your right to personal beliefs until the day I shuffle off this little orb we share.