The Debate (Updated)

atheist-debate-meI went shopping with Donna yesterday and there was a guy in the grocery store wearing the shirt you see on the left. It says “I’m an atheist, debate me.” He was an older guy, about my age. While I was looking, two women asked him where he got the shirt, which surprised me. Other shoppers mostly pretended he wasn’t there. No one, as far as I know, challenged him to a debate.

At the time I didn’t know pop scientist Bill Nye and that snake oil dude from the Creation Museum were going to be debating evolution on television later that night.* I wonder now if the atheist in the grocery store wasn’t part of a viral publicity campaign. After all, it’s not every day you see someone wearing an atheist t-shirt in public.

Some people think atheists go around with sneers on their faces and atheist t-shirts on their backs, trying to lure innocent little Christian children into debates about religion. It’s kind of a Christianist urban legend. I always wave the bullshit flag on that one, but after yesterday I think I’ll just keep my yap shut. I may have met the archetype. Of course there are obnoxious assholes in the atheist camp, just as there are obnoxious religious assholes. No one has a monopoly on them.

But most atheists are not like that, and there are a lot of us. I think there are more of us than anyone knows, and one reason for that is that few of us go out of our way to advertise it. As you have deduced by now, I am an atheist: I don’t believe in a god and I’ve no use for religion. I’m fortunate in that I don’t have to hide my views, don’t have to pretend to be a god-fearing’ church-goin’ citizen. Many of my fellow non-believers, for reasons both professional and personal, do. They’re in the closet, as they say.

Not having to hide my views is one thing; when it comes to sharing them, well, I answer honestly when people ask but I don’t shove it in their faces. I would never wear a t-shirt like that. Live and let live, and as long as you keep your religion out of my life I’ll keep my lack of it out of yours. I suspect that’s how most atheists feel.

Many people think religion is what motivates us to act ethically and morally, to treat others as we would be treated. Personally, I think plain old common sense dictates ethics and morality. We’re social animals who have to live in this world, and we learn as children that everything goes better if we treat one another right. I think that while religion can be a social good, it can also be the opposite. Religion has been, all too often, mankind’s excuse to behave horribly, to justify racism and oppression and slavery, to condone rape and killing and war.

You know what? If I were king I’d run this country in accordance with the golden rule and what most of us think of as traditional Judeo-Christian values, and decent people would never suspect me of being a rotten atheist at heart. Except for the current crop of right-wing evangelicals, that is. They’d see right through me, because I’d fight them every time they tried to impose their Christian brand of sharia law on everyone else. So maybe it wouldn’t work out. Never mind, I didn’t want to be king anyway.

As I said, I just want to live and let live. Do whatever you want to do in your churches and meeting halls, just keep it out of the public square, okay? And I promise not to sneer at you, wear atheist t-shirts, or try to convert your children.

* As for that debate, I didn’t like the idea one bit, and was surprised Bill Nye agreed to do it. You can’t debate creationists, because they reject science. No argument you make will sway them; they always come back to the infallibility of the Bible. I didn’t watch the debate, but I did follow it on social media, and now I kind of see why Nye did it. The debate was staged at the Creationist Museum in Kentucky and there were many children in the audience who have been taught to reject science and evolution. Many of us … atheists I mean … become so as teenagers, at the age where we begin to think for ourselves. No adult who embraces science would have been convinced by any of the creation “arguments” raised in last night’s debate; no adult creationist would have listened to a word Bill Nye said … but a few children may have begun to think for themselves.

Update (2/6/14): I cross-posted this to Daily Kos about an hour after posting it here. Several DKos readers have responded and you may find their comments interesting. Here’s the link (scroll down to read the comments).

© 2014, Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.

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