I want to say here first that atheists are no different than anyone else. That’s right; we’re not in a special privileged category of human beings that think only with a rational mindset. Sometimes we can be irrational, emotional, and hyper-sensitive. In other words, sometimes we’re no different than the non-skeptics and theists that we regularly deride for their beliefs and positions.
The reason I am bringing this subject up here is that, as many of you know, there has been an online schism within the atheist/skeptic world that has been escalating in my opinion to the point of being out of control. This schism started with a completely innocuous incident in 2011 and by August of 2012 had become so toxic that it has seemed to drive rational discussion out of the online community and become a platform of “us and them” (on both sides).
We’ve seen prominent figures in the atheistic/skeptic world attacked vociferously for the tiniest things, like a phrase taken out of context. We’ve seen people stalked, online, because of positions they hold on certain social issues – again, on both sides of this debate. We’ve seen the meme of perpetual victimization.
You may not know what I’m referring to here and if you don’t, that’s good because what appears to some as internet nuclear warfare is actually only a minuscule subset of atheists and skeptics launching their rhetorical weapons at one another. It has come to the point, for me at least that I can barely listen to a podcast anymore without this seemingly World War being mentioned at some point or another. But remember, it’s a very small group of people on both sides that have engaged in these personal attacks against one another but the fact that it receives so much attention is, I believe, hurtful to the message of the rest of the atheist/skeptical world.
I want to confess right now that I have taken part in this online debate. It’s difficult not to. It’s like a car wreck that traffic slows down to “rubber-neck” and then believes has to be commented on. It is a car wreck, but how much attention does it deserve? Honestly, none. It’s nice when you’re on the freeway and you see the sign that warns “Accident Ahead”, because then you have the possibility of exiting the freeway early to go around it.
For me, it no longer makes any sense to engage in a battle that neither side will win. We are all human, we have those different opinions and perspectives from our own life experience that we bring with us as atheists and skeptics. That’s good. It sparks debate and it should. But when the debate turns into personal attacks on one another, that is no longer a debate, it’s a grade school cafeteria food fight and we really need the grown-ups in the room to put a stop to it. Now.
We don’t have to like or respect each other personally. What we should be doing is taking a look at what we say to one another and evaluating what was said and even if the other person has hurled personal insults, move on. That person is not worthy of debate. That’s not “kicking them out of the movement”, it’s just ignoring them until they decide they want to have a rational discussion on whatever issue was first being discussed.
No more witch hunts. No more personal attacks. Leave your prejudices at one or another people or their views where they belong and start engaging people positively. That’s where ideas come from. That’s how the message that people in the atheist and skeptical world, long before most of us were around or even part of it, these people that have spent their lives working for positive secular changes in society, have done for the rest of us already. We need to be able to carry that message forward in our lives.
I’m going to do my best to not engage in this schism anymore. It’s going to be difficult since it’s like a virus on the Internet, but I think I can do it for the most part. I hope you can as well.