A few days ago, I had a conversation in skepchick comments about atheism. I tried to ignore it, but it has been bothering me. Note, the post from skepchick in general doesn’t have to do with atheism, it has more to do with skeptics who exclude people. But still, I can’t help but think some of the commenters argued against atheist strawman. Honestly, coming from such an intelligent group of people, it amazes me how dissonant their ideas of skepticism can be when atheism come into play. Not that they aren’t a bunch of wonderful people, because they are wonderful, and I do not wish to drive you away from them, since everyone there have intelligent discussions, and not so serious really funny ones. Sure, sometimes we have conflicts, but overall, we are all friendly towards each other. But there are also weaknesses which I want to expose, and I hope that by doing so, I can strengthen the movement.
The weakness has to do with some people in the group who criticize atheists and the sheer hypocrisy of some of their criticism. For those of you who don’t know, skeptics hope to educate people about the nature of this world and the weakness of our mind which perceives it, and at the same time, fighting falsehoods which may or may not threaten people’s life. Basically, skeptics search to nail down the truth, even though the truth is not absolute or transparent, but approximate. But at least we try. And oh boy, when a skeptic fight against a brand of magical woo woo, you better watch out, because they are going to kick your ass. And that is what they do to EVERY SINGLE BRAND OF WOO… except for some people, religion. And when religious skeptic people become cognitively dissonant, or when some atheist skeptic becomes uncomfortable because they are afraid of… something, they shove us the strawman atheists that supposedly hate theists and are trying to expel them from the group. If you ask me, that is the same type of persecution mentality that fundamentalists exhibit, except scaled down x1000 (nothing can be greater than the persecution complex of a religious fundy ).
Now, let me tell you something about atheists. Atheists may be loud, they may be overly critical, but as far as I can tell, that is nothing the skeptic movement haven’t done against woo woo. Look at these example from Phil Plait or the sheer amount of ass kicking James Randi has done or the logorrheic insolence from Orac. Which is why, again, it amazes me that seemingly intelligent people accuse the atheists for being too aggressive and hostile. Are you kidding me? I bet you that every single one of those criticisms coming from the people linked above sound exactly like hostility to those who are at the receiving end of it, calling them “suppression” and “censorship.” But you know deep down, or above up (I don’t know how else to say the opposite of deep down :) ), that their complaints are a bunch of crap, stupid and cowardly in design. Criticism is not censorship, nor does it mean that you are excluding a group of people. It means that certain arguments have flaws, and those flaws shouldn’t be ignored. What do atheists do? They do exactly the same thing, criticize religion for what it is. What most atheists don’t do is exclusion, because we all understand that we are not perfect. Nor do atheists expect everyone to fight against religion or every single brand of woo. Everyone has their blind spots and specialties, and that the human mind is inflexible in many cases. In a recent comment from PZ in his own post, he explains it the best:
Yes, we all have our blind spots and special cases…which is why it is important for the skeptical community to be consistent and not grant special exemptions for certain weird beliefs, and it’s also why skeptics can’t exclude individuals from that community for weird beliefs. If we did, there would be no skeptics!
In that case, it is important that we invite people, even if they have certain irrationalities like believing in psychics, because our purpose is to not only fight, but educate while doing so. And if the psychic person wants to fight certain woo woo, that is fine, but when the conversation ever gets to things about his beliefs, he shouldn’t expect us to make special exceptions to his beliefs. While I believe politeness is important, the right application of criticism is also important. That way, we all educate each other, and cover for each others’ blindness.
If you became a skeptic to seek comfort, I am sorry, but if so, you are in the wrong place. Often times, hearing criticism of your own beliefs can be mentally painful, especially if you grew up with it. Especially if it is religion, because religion tend to be more ingrained in one’s identity. If so, the mere existence of atheists, especially atheists with voices, are offensive and threatening to one’s identity. But if the only things you look for as a skeptic are ideas which conform or help other people to conform to your own ideas of how the world is supposed to work, then what is the point? A skeptic is supposed to challenge world views, change one’s own or other people’s minds , go against unreasonable and inhuman cultural norms (criticizing religion is a mores in many parts of America, which is in part why some atheists fight religion), or fight against the creeping advance of pseudoscience which could cost others their money, happiness, and lives. I am not suggesting that skeptics should be unhappy. After all, skepticism is a tool, and whether you become happy by it (I am) or lose faith in humanity and become grumpy (me too, somewhat) depends on each individual. Rather, I am suggesting that you should apply consistency to your skepticism, or rather, allow others to apply consistency to their skepticism and let them criticize you when the conversation comes up. Even if that very idea is your religious belief. Let criticism fly!
For another take, read from Shaun Philly, which I wholeheartedly agree with.