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How to Get on an Atheist's Good Side

Here's nine tips for believers who want to reach out. After all, atheists are a growing movement and may soon be a force to be reckoned with.

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It's totally fucked up. Please don't do that.

Here's the thing. Atheists see religion as (among other things) a hypothesis about the world: an explanation for how the world works and why it is the way it is. We think that, as such, it should be willing to defend itself in the marketplace of ideas, on an even playing field. And we see the "criticism of religion is inherently intolerant" trope as one of the chief ways religion avoids having to do that. It totally gets up our nose.

As someone whose name I can't remember recently said: Religion has been discussed in hushed tones for so long, that when people talk about it in a normal tone of voice, it sounds like we're screaming. But most of us are not screaming. Most of us are talking in a normal tone of voice... for the first time in our lives.

Fundamentalism 8: Do not -- repeat, DO NOT -- talk about "fundamentalist atheists."

If you think an atheist or an atheist group is being intolerant, or bigoted, or close-minded, then by all means, say that they're being intolerant or bigoted or close-minded. But please, for the sweet love of all that is beautiful in this world, do not call them "fundamentalist atheists." The "fundamentalist" canard makes most atheists want to scream and tear our hair out. It's a problem for three reasons:

1: It's inaccurate. Atheists do not have a text or a set of basic principles to which they strictly and literally adhere... which is what the word "fundamentalist" means. (See "common myths about atheists" above.)

2: It perpetuates the myth that atheism is just another form of dogmatic religious faith... which it most emphatically is not. (Again, see "common myths about atheists" above.)

3: It divides the atheist movement into the "good" ones and the "bad" ones: the good ones who keep their mouths shut, and the bad ones who speak their opinions loudly and firmly. (See "don't divide and conquer" above.)

Think of the phrase "fundamentalist atheist" as an epithet. If you insist on using it, you should expect that no atheist will listen to anything else you say.

Finally -- and I think this may be the hardest for a lot of people, especially in the LGBT community:

Privilege 9: Be aware of how religious belief gives you a place of mainstream and privilege.

This is a lot less true for believers in minority religions, like Jews and Muslims in the U.S. But even though the specifics of your belief marginalize you, the fact that you have belief at all does give you some privilege that you may not be aware of.

The assumption that everyone believes in some sort of God is so widespread as to be practically invisible. And the assumption that morality must stem from religious faith is incredibly pervasive. Many religious believers -- even the more hard-core ones, maybe especially the more hard-core ones -- are more trusting of other religious believers whose beliefs they don't share than they are of atheists. (Look again at "what it's like to be an atheist" above... and look again the Gallup Poll about how atheists are considered less qualified to be President than any other group that was polled about.)

Mount-royal-cross And if you are a Christian? Forget about it. If you are a Christian in the United States, then -- when it comes to this particular area of the "privilege/ marginalization" palette -- your Christianity puts you squarely in the "privileged mainstream" category. Christians are in the clear majority in the United States, and they are in the clear mainstream of politics and culture. You're not being thrown to the lions anymore. You haven't been thrown to the lions for almost 2,000 years. You are in the group that is running the show.

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