Recently, vJack at Atheist Revolution wrote a post on what he sees as the Big Questions dividing the atheist community. I thought he pretty much nailed the main issues, so I have no reason to not give my answers. Here goes.
1. Should atheists work toward the total eradication of religious belief, or is it sufficient to stop those who would impose their religiously-based morality on the rest of us? Some anti-theistic atheists argue that we should stop at nothing short of ending religion and that it is a mistake to seek religious allies who may share our goal of secularism; other atheists believe that secularism should be our primary goal and are perfectly content to work alongside religious secularists when it may be beneficial to do so.
Already, there is a division in my answer. I argue against ideas that I think are factually wrong, particularly if I think they are harmful to people. Everyone does this, from their own point of view of what is true or false, beneficial or harmful, some more vocally than others. In my world, that means I often find myself arguing against some form of religious belief, or specific claim within a set of religious beliefs. If such beliefs did not affect me at all, I would have little motivation to argue. But in America, there are plenty of instances when another person's belief, or widespread beliefs in society, conflict with my freedom. My own personal opinion is that society would be better off with fewer widespread false and damaging beliefs, and that religion is a big source of them,or at least heavily involved in spreading them. But I see no evidence that all false beliefs, particularly where deep emotions and connections to one's identity are involved, can be eradicated by a political movement, at least not on the timescale of a human generation or two. History has shown that using direct force or even the ballot box to enforce belief can end up a bloody mess. I have no desire to force anyone to believe anything, we can only argue with equals and hope to convince them. So even though I do sometimes wish, when I focus on all the bullshit and damage done by religious belief, that I could take a hammer to every fucking crucifix, church, temple and mosque in the world, I can not and will not. As an individual, I have my axes to grind, but as any kind of movement, we should focus on secularism, on removing the unwanted political force of other peoples' religious beliefs from ourselves and others who do not agree with the religious beliefs being put into political power. I am perfectly happy to work alongside Christians, Muslims, Satanists, Buddhists, or anyone else for the cause of secularism, though some of them may not like to work with me.
2. Do ridicule and mockery have any place in how atheists respond to religious belief? Some atheists say we should avoid such tactics (e.g., "don't be a dick") because they are counterproductive or make us look bad; others say they have their place in our repertoire.
Do ridicule and mockery have a place in how atheists respond to religious belief?
Hells fucking yeah they do. I'm not saying it's for everybody. I've nearly lost friends over it....shit, maybe I have lost friends and just didn't notice. You don't even have to be an atheist to do it and enjoy it. I cannot, as a normal human being, be expected to hear obvious bullshit put forth as deep wisdom(or political policy) and have to just pretend to respect it.
In the workplace? At a friend's social gathering? At family functions? Maybe, if the situation warrants the "manners", but not always even then. But to fully abstain from mocking religious bullshit? On my time? On the internet? In public discourse? When confronted face to face with willful insanity?
Not a fucking chance. If reincarnation turns out to be true, maybe I'll give that a shot next time.
Now, as far as "organized atheism" goes......as acts of "the movement" done by public organizations instead of individuals....perhaps they should exercise a bit more restraint, but I think ridicule is still a very effective tool for legitimate activism. To wholly abandon it, even for serious public orgs, is to collectively lose both our sense of humor and a vital connection with humanity. As far as Phil Plait(or Wil Wheaton, or any of the random bloggers who've run with it) telling me and all other skeptics or atheists or nerds "don't be a dick", that's good general advice for daily life and cosplay conventions....but incredibly shitty advice for effecting change, busting open the public consciousness, expressing frustration, getting attention to your cause, or claiming one's independence from groupthink and irrational belief- as well as stuffy, prissy, petty moralist high-minded bullshit. Phil may look like a new-age white Buddhist monk, but he ain't the fucking Pope of Skepticism. Frankly, telling other adults how to behave and respond to a society full of bullshit is about the most dickish thing I've ever heard from a skeptic.
More answers in the next post!