I’ve got a great guest blogger for you today. With the battle over Christmas in full swing again, with the armies of Christians defending their holiday against the onslaught of “holiday” celebrators, I thought I’d do a little fraternizing with the enemy.
For several months, No Forbidden Questions has been one of the few atheist blogs in my blog reader. NFQ, as she calls herself, comments here regularly, and what she says is always thoughtful and challenging. If you want your Christian apologetics to get a workout, read her blog.
Today, I’ve got her here to ask her just what the deal is with all these atheists trying to destroy our sacred holiday and make baby Jesus cry. Good stuff.
First of all, can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I’m a female graduate student in my mid-twenties, working on a PhD in the physical sciences. I also happen to be an atheist, which means that while I don’t claim 100% certainty that there are no gods, I haven’t been convinced to believe in any so far and I don’t see any reason to suppose that a god or gods exist.
A lot of Christians feel that Christmas and Christianity is being attacked, primarily by atheists and secularists. Do you think that is the goal of the atheist community – to destroy Christmas?
Haha, no, of course not, no more than it’s the M.O. of Christians to “destroy” Ramadan or Diwali. I’m not going around encouraging people to celebrate Christmas. But I think many Christians perceive it to be an “attack” when non-Christians request that public schools and government not endorse specifically Christian beliefs and practices, or when private businesses choose to acknowledge the existence of non-Christians by saying “Happy Holidays” to their customers. By all means, exercise your religious freedom, but remember that this freedom doesn’t include forcing other people to endorse your beliefs.
I recently heard a prominent atheist say that atheists need to “come out of the closet” and help make atheism as mainstream lifestyle, if you will. Do you think being an atheist today is at all like being a homosexual or other marginalized groups of previous generations?
Obviously there are some major differences, but the coming-out aspect definitely applies. This analogy is made all the time in the atheist community. Here’s why: when you don’t know someone from a minority group, it’s easy to believe all the scary things you hear about them. As soon as you find out that your neighbor, your babysitter, your doctor, or whoever is actually in that minority, the negative stereotypes start to evaporate. Over the last few decades, this has been working well for LGBT folks. It could work for atheists too.
How do you feel about living in a largely Judeo- Christian culture?
I don’t mind it most of the time. All religions incorporate a fair amount of common sense principles for how to behave, so while we take different routes to get there we often end up agreeing on the take-away points. I definitely value and endorse being kind to other people, fostering loving and supportive families, not murdering people, not stealing, and so on. Living in a society founded on those values is a-okay by me.
The part that’s actually upsetting is the condescending attitude toward atheists that so often comes along with these values. The phrase “person of faith” is used as a compliment, which might as well be rephrased as, “That person is super not-atheist, hooray!” Denouncing your political opponent as an atheist is a reasonably effective campaign strategy; there are even a few state constitutions that still formally bar atheists from holding office. George H.W. Bush, before being elected President, actually said that he didn’t think atheists should be considered American citizens. Not gonna lie … this kind of stuff hurts.
Do you feel that atheism has or needs a public face, an evangelist of sorts? Do you think guys like Christopher Hitchens represent mainstream atheists?
I think a lot of religious people will find it abrasive and insulting any time an atheist is willing to say, “I don’t believe your religion is true.” Traditionally, atheists have shied away from making public statements like this, so it feels extreme and offensive when a few people actually do. It seems like all it takes to be branded a militant, fundamentalist “New Atheist” is to admit to being an atheist at all! Dawkins, Hitchens, and other atheist writers do say some over-the-top things, and I don’t support everything they say, but I think most of the flak they get is primarily because they’re open about their nonbelief.
Of course, there is a certain sense in which these people are different than average atheists: they’ve chosen to make atheism a huge part of their professional lives. For most of us, atheism is just one more thing we believe, alongside views about politics or philosophy. Priests obviously care on average a lot more about Catholicism than do their parishioners. Politicians care more about political opinions than do the members of their party. That does mean that if people think Richard Dawkins is a typical atheist, they’ve got the wrong idea.
Tell us a bit about your blog.
I blog at No Forbidden Questions, which is why I go by the initials NFQ. I took the name from an awesome line in Carl Sagan’s critical thinking primer, The Demon-Haunted World: “There are no forbidden questions in science, no matters too sensitive or delicate to be probed, no sacred truths.” Religious beliefs are often taboo, but I believe supernatural claims should be subject to the same questioning and investigation as any other statement about reality. If we talk about what we believe (or don’t) and why, we’re more likely to figure out what’s actually true. That’s a conversation I want to be a part of.