This is a report on behalf of key, at-odds, commentators on the News24 comments sections who today held an extensive online indaba to diffuse rising tensions.
I have the unenviable and no doubt thankless task of painting a big target on my back and stepping up to the wall with a loudhailer to address two opposing firing squads and a heckling crowd. My brief is to take stock of where we are with out-of-control theist vs atheist disputes, and how we propose to bring sanity and decorum… Oh, boy!
On a personal note: Don’t shoot the messenger; I will try to keep my own bias out of this; but I will add some commentary that I hope will help the religious understand the context of contrary thinking.
Without going into the history of inter-faith squabbles and wars; religion and those questioning-religion has globally, for centuries, been embroiled in a sometimes deadly battle – recently echoed on these comments sections; and this small rushed report is not going to deliver a lasting truce or remove all friction. All I and we can hope for is to put grievances on the table, plot some general requests for conduct, and create the beginnings of a foundation for mutual respect – with the hope of more productive dialogue into the future.
The past 10 days, though not actually fatal for anyone, has certainly raised passions on both sides. Top of the priority: Imposters creating fake identities identical to regular commentators, and then posting provocative or contrary views.
The consensus across the board from both the secular and religious camps is that this is totally unacceptable, entirely unproductive and pointless, and a blight on the individuals concerned. We ask our member to refrain from in any way perpetrating these frauds – it is childish and not acceptable.
We ask the administrators at News24 to look into this matter and seek a technical solution to resolve it.
We request that all ad hominem (personal) attacks be avoided as they do not propel discussion or make points worthy of adult conversation.
Everyone, repeat after me…: “It would be preferable to refrain from pointless name calling….” – it’s childish and we can achieve more if we bicker less.
There is a request from the religious side that when God is named, that a capital “G” be used. There is some disagreement on this from the agnostic/atheist side; in that many feel that a deliberate statement is being made by using the small ‘g’ – of not recognizing the deity as actually existing and lumping ‘him’ in with all of the other deities that have come and gone. This is not intended as a provocation, but a stance. We do appreciate that through history, on pain of death, theists have been told that they can and must demand this; and now that death is not an option for transgression, feel aggrieved if it is not followed. We cannot guarantee this as a policy, though, and it will come down to personal choice. Perhaps the pious can simply consider it a frailty that their G/god can deal with on an incident-by-incident basis later. All atheists are under warning that it is noted and theists have done their duty to log and lodge a formal complaint on G/god’s behalf.
Another request is to refrain from religious jokes. Again, this will fall into the same category as the G/god request; it will have to be a personal choice, but the appeal is there to not be provocative – and to not react to provocation.
From the atheist side, there is a request that we finally put to rest and hear no more of the inaccurate claim that “atheism is a religion”. That argument has been had too many time – we feel that if the theists want to believe that, it is fine – but in all objective terms it does not stand up to scrutiny and repeatedly draws a necessary explanation to resolve it; resulting in endless trading of unproductive chatter. Again, like G/god or jokes, someone will inevitably bring it up – and all we can do is ask that atheists merely reference that the matter has been dealt with without agreement, and let it be.
In a similar vein, trying to link science-informed humanistic atheism to political doctrines (communism) that simply decree “no more god – you will worship Stalin/Po Pot/Mao…” is utterly pointless and nonsense… We, as (primarily) evolutionists and humanists are as removed from totalitarianism as people can be.
We ask that attempts to link atheism with satanism be put to bed too. Satanism requires a ‘belief’ in the supernatural, and, per definition, we reject the notion and so reject Satanism with it. Yes, we know that you feel that our rejection of supernatural means we’re susceptible to some satanic manipulation; which is crazy as we see it; so we ask then that you simply rely on the power and strength of your God to thwart, neutralize, and overcome our alleged blindness-of-heart; we feel that we are safe from satanism, and, with God on your side, so are you. Let’s just let it rest there, please.
We ask theists to consider a truism: The vast majority of atheists on this site have once been religious. We accept that you will claim that our particular flavour of religion was wrong or that you think we’re rebelling or don’t want to live by rules, etc. These are arguments we have heard many many times both online and in the flesh. We can state with absolute conviction that you are wrong and don’t understand us at all.
Along the same lines – every single one of us has family and friends who are religious; there is not one of us who is not surrounded daily by religious people. We can only ask of you; that you ask of yourself and honestly answer; how many atheists to you personally know as friends? I and we wager… none or very few.
So; and here is my point; you and your point of view is intimately known to us – please accept that by contrast, we are very much an unknown quantity to you. I will stick my neck out and say that your only contact with atheists has been through your church and snarling at one another through the mesh of the web.
To add an anecdote; My current girlfriend is religious; and I recount this because it is instructive; she knew my stance from outset – but, after a bit of time gone by now, her reaction to me are what I believe you would echo if you actually got to know us as humans – she said “I never thought I’d be in this position (now… stop grinning)… with a guy who isn’t a believer. But you are nothing like I thought atheists are – you’re as kind, polite, gentle, and generous as any Christian – probably more so!”
When I emerged from a religious mindset into an agnostic and now a strong agnostic; call it atheist; my only change was that the true wonder at the magnitude and complexity of life as revealed made me gentler and humbler if anything. I have seen the same in the atheists I know. I can only ask that you accept that this is a fact.
But people are people – and we have good and bad in both camps. Neither of us has the monopoly on love, peace or charity. Humans generalize, but it is as provocative for the theist group to make sweeping false declarations about “the atheists” as it is for us to rip into you.
Atheists these days do feel that we have to defend our hard-won freedoms from religious tyranny. We do feel that the secular freedoms we have one are by no means guaranteed into our and our children’s future. We feel that our only guarantee is to ensure that religion must compete in the open market of ideas and live or die by its own intrinsic character; for what it gives to people, and not by decree or tradition. In this, with the earlier requests for decorum in mind, we feel that common decency must be observed, but that religion cannot demand any special privileges and protection from criticism.
I trust that this brief report; hastily assembled as it is; at least covers the major issues. There has not been time to ‘clear it’ with anyone on either side of the divide, so that it is probably incomplete and may in fact not achieve what I and we hope for – but it is a start and attempt to lay down some common ground and some ground principles.
Let us proceed in good faith.
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