skeptic groups try to exorcise their atheists
Those of you who read this blog on a regular basis probably have an idea about my schedule and why I’m not as active with local skeptical groups as I probably should be. But I’m still active enough to hear things coming from older skeptical organizations and their complaints about kids today. Primarily that too many of them stick to computers and social media, not enough go to meetings and events sponsored by these skeptical groups, and that there are just too many of those darn atheists showing up at meetings and wanting to talk about their atheism thanks to Hitchens and Dawkins and Myers. And for some, that last problem is so bad, they try their hardest to declare that their skeptical groups do not endorse atheists or atheism lest any would-be member have to bear the horrible, terrible social stigma of being thought an atheist. One wonders if they’ll start putting how few atheists there should be at their meetings right on the flyers advertising their next big meet-up…
Here’s the issue. We all know that there’s been a steep rise in atheists thanks to today’s trendy atheist books and campaigns urging them to come out and give theists a piece of their mind. And often times, new converts tend to be the most zealous and vocal while those who’ve lived with a certain worldview for a while are usually more relaxed. I’ve written about the pros and cons of uptick in new atheists before, and I’m aware that there are plenty of young, amped up atheists on the warpath and so focused on their newfound or newly reinvented atheism that it’s all they want to talk about. These are the people old guard skeptics would like to keep farther away from their meetings because they don’t want their groups turning into an atheist book club. And to some extent, that’s perfectly fair. Skeptical groups are supposed to teach critical thinking and apply it to topics where very little of it is being shown, from old and repugnant frauds like psychics who claim to talk to the dead, to the modern pseudoscientific, quasi-religious UFOlogists and alien conspiracy theorists. Skeptics are under no obligation to let atheists hijack the proceedings to talk about, say, Hitchens’ latest columns and we need to be aware of the fact. We’re not excused from having some basic social graces because we’re atheists.
Yet, that said, the way skeptical groups seem to be going about discouraging atheists from turing their events into their coming out parties and celebrations of all things godless isn’t going to win them any points with the anti-atheist crowd, and is actually counterproductive in their interactions with atheists themselves. Let’s keep in mind that a lot of the pseudoscience skeptics tend to tackle are concepts steeped in religious faith. Ghosts and psychics rely on the idea of an immortal soul, just like many mystical vibrations of dowsers tend to rely on notions borrowed from esoteric and mystical interpretations of sophisticated theology. Same thing goes for a serious bulk of alternative medicine and New Age pseudoscience, even though it tends to be wrapped in very repetitive invocations of scientific buzzwords stringed together into an impressive sounding, but meaningless word salad superficially resembling a coherent thought. And on top of that, let’s remember that whenever the fundamentalist squads armed with Bibles and screaming about heathens trying to corrupt innocent children with science classes that teach about evolution and basic cosmology show up at board meetings, just about every skeptical blog ignites with contempt for those who want to drag our society backwards in time.
But then, after spending so much time dismissing religiously inspired ideas as either pseudoscience or just dogmatic unreason, the very same skeptics will turn around and loudly complain about how they don’t want a perfectly respectable skeptical organization like theirs to be “tainted by atheism” in the eyes of the people they want to reach. You know, the very people whose beliefs they’ve just been refuting and who loathe them as just a band of elitist know-it-alls who want to tell them how to live and what to think. And when these skeptics lash out to tell atheists that they’re not welcome at their events because this will somehow damage the reputation of their group, all they do is take those already amped up and angry atheists, and make them even madder by further marginalizing them like all those parasitic talking heads who constantly whine about how evil, amoral, and probably criminally insane atheists are. You know, the same talking heads who admit that the only things keeping them from going on a cross-country mass murder, rape, hate crime, and pillage spree are assorted quotes from their holy books telling them not to do that if they ever want to get into Heaven, and the very same talking heads who whine about the lack of creationism classes in public schools? Yeah, the skeptics trying to exorcise atheists from their organizations are taking those talking heads’ position here.
Being a skeptic is not for everyone because some people are perfectly and blissfully happy going on a bigfoot hunting hike, or thinking that they can either pray away their cancer, or just eat some “super-mega-giga-uber- hyperfood” pitched by some random quack at HuffPo and dissolve their brain tumors while doctors give them only a few months to live. Others are so terrified of some priests’ amoral speeches about the need for faith, they will fight to mandate creationism instruction in schools until they’re on their deathbeds. They will never be impressed by some skeptics’ expulsion of atheists from their circles unless the skeptics give up their science and evidence and dive headfirst into woo. Meanwhile, rather than letting self-discovering atheists filled with a whole lot of zeal and a whole lot of energy cool down and expand themselves by learning and helping to teach others about skeptical inquiry and the need for the scientific method in our daily lives, something that arguably does much more good to highlighting the unreason behind religious fundamentalism on a macro scale than any fiery speech, the skeptics driving them away with the message that having atheists among them is just a social stigma they’d like to overcome, only make these atheists angrier by attacking their potential to be great skeptics and questioning their worth as fellow human beings. And that’s just plain wrong.