Sunday, December 9, 2012
One of the objectionable customs of many religions especially most theistic ones is proselytization. I consider this practice rude and condescending because of its implication that the adherent's beliefs are superior to those of other people's and thus they need to be saved from the error of their ways.
Atheists on the other hand as a whole don't knock on doors or buttonhole people on the street to spread our message. But in order to get our ideas across to others, defend our rights to non-belief, and counter our image as baby-eaters, we must do so in a manner that doesn't impose on religionists' privacy.
So what is the difference then between proselytizing on one hand and being assertive—or even aggressive—on the other in presenting what we stand for to the community at large? I think that it comes down to whom we approach in order to deliver our point of view. This means that atheists should not badger individuals who have not initiated an exchange about religion by "starting it". But we have every right to put in our two cents in the market of ideas and public debate. This means disseminating the atheist perspective via the media, Internet, speakers, and billboards just to name a few venues. Richard Dawkins comes to mind as an example a non-believer who has no qualms about standing up to religious interests and through the use of logic and biting wit does so in an effective manner.
I would like to think that on a personal level, the foregoing won't be construed as supporting "don't ask don't tell". If anything, it should be clear that on a one-on-one basis I favor telling others plenty, but only if they ask. For example I have a devoutly religious family member who recently underwent a cancer related amputation. I would not go up to her and tell her that, prior confirmation of the malignancy her prayers that all she had was a benign cyst were a waste of time and didn't make a dime's worth of difference in the outcome of her illness. I think that would be crass and unfeeling. Yet, I don't hesitate to state my atheist's opinions which she might see in social media about the inefficacy of prayer. It is this type of distinction in handling public and private matters that I submit might be a useful guide in dealing with believers.