Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Which atheist is the irrelevant atheist?

Now and then, more outwardly well-adjusted atheists will not only reject Cult of Gnu antics, but will further claim that the Cult hardly represents atheism. Dawkins, Coyne, Maher, Myers... these guys are ignorant jerks, even hateful, it will be conceded. But, despite having a following, they don't 'represent' or act as 'leaders' of atheism. In fact, the complaint will further go, it's annoying that (religious / theist) people spend so much time talking about them. For most atheists, they are largely irrelevant.

I have no doubt that there's a number of irreligious - usually agnostics, or 'nothings' - who are polite, civil, reasonable, and respectful. In fact, I don't doubt a good share of them - and even some self-described atheists - sincerely dislike and reject the tactics and personalities of the Cult of Gnu. If I run into a sincere agnostic (as opposed to, say, a Cult of Gnu atheist who is desperately trying to redefine both atheism and agnosticism in some desperate attempt to avoid any and all burdens of proof), I generally have no problem having a polite and reasonable conversation with them. The same goes for the merely irreligious, the respectful atheist, etc.

The problem is that, when it comes to self-described atheists, I more and more think it's clear that the nice, soft-spoken, even-handed atheists are pretty well irrelevant. At least in a popular sense, and quite possibly in an intellectual sense.

Whatever ill you want to say about them, Dawkins, Myers, Harris and company have had honor after honor heaped upon them by pretty well every atheist organization of note. They get awards named after them, they're granted these same awards, they're keynote speakers and guests of honor, they get regarded expressly as 'leaders' of the atheist 'movement'. And whatever relevantly educated, respectful atheists there are, tend to be entirely ignored.

If there is a legion of atheists out there who reject the Cult of Gnu approach, I have to say - they are doing an absolutely fantastic job of hiding. They present no visible pushback when major atheist organizations heap praise and awards on the Cult leadership. If you say this is because they just plain don't speak up at all and their atheism isn't particularly important in their lives, then you've just argued that they are irrelevant in a popular sense. If you argue that they're simply outnumbered, then once again, they're pretty well irrelevant in a popular sense.

If respectful, civil atheists want to change this, they have their work cut out for them. And I suspect many aren't interested in changing this at the end of the day.

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