The problem with atheist forums

Occasionally I’ve looked in on atheist forums on the Internet, but I’ve never stuck with any. The amount of hostility and mockery on them is just unpleasant. Whatever I think of religion, mocking it just isn’t worth very much of my time. One of them proved to be more an anti-Christian forum than anything else, with significantly more tolerance for any religion that wasn’t Christianity. Most of them have some good posts, but more are by people jumping on the most absurd actions of Christians or quasi-Christians. If you went by these forums, you’d think that the Westboro Baptist Church was one of the most important sources of religious thought today.

The idea of a discussion forum on the basis of a common absence of belief is just odd, and it’s not surprising it doesn’t produce much that’s positive. As far as I’m concerned, the notion that there’s a being that created the whole universe and yet bothers with how we think and act is too bizarre to take seriously; let’s just move on. People who think there is one don’t injure me unless they try to force me to act according to their beliefs or pay for their propagation. If they do, that’s an issue of coercion, not of religion.

Penn Jillette recently wrote: “Religion cannot and should not be replaced by atheism. Religion needs to go away and not be replaced by anything. Atheism is not a religion. It’s the absence of religion, and that’s a wonderful thing.” My reactions to his writing are very mixed, but in this case he’s on target. Reason is a positive and worth devoting time to; atheism isn’t.

Thomas Jefferson said, “But it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” I think most atheists understand this, but the ones who are attracted to atheist forums are the ones who feel compelled to complain about religion. A discussion group centered on an absence really isn’t likely to have much to say. What would a “There is no Tooth Fairy” forum talk about?

3 Responses to “The problem with atheist forums”

  1. fojap Says:

    Occasionally, I’ve gone to atheist forums because I’m concerned about the teaching of intelligent design in schools and other related subjects, but I’ve been driven away by the overall feeling of defensiveness and hostility. I understand much of what you’re saying in this post.

  2. Eyal Mozes Says:

    I completely agree.

    I think there are two very different types of people who call themselves atheists: those who have no religion, and those whose religion is atheism. The non-religious atheists are no more likely to post on atheist forums than they are to post on a-tooth-fairyist forums; and so posts on atheist forums come pretty much entirely from the religious ones. And most of them are attracted to atheism because it provides them with one of the central values that many other religious people get from their religion: the opportunity to be part of an in-group and to feel superior to the benighted infidels.

    I think this also explains why Richard Dawkins has become so famous, and why he is so widely regarded as today’s most prominent atheist. We’ve had centuries of reasoned criticisms of theism, and Dawkins has added nothing of any value or insight to these criticisms. His main distinction is that he is the first to systematically approach atheism as a religion; the first to attack theism, not with reasoned arguments, but with attacks on the psychology and motives of theists, appealing to the us-vs-them mentality of religious atheists. He is a proselytizer for a different religion; and that is what makes him so much more acceptable to many people than the genuine critics of religion.

    • Gary McGath Says:

      There’s even a Church of Atheism in London. Back when I was running D&D campaigns I had atheist clerics, but that was supposed to be a joke!

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