Monday, April 12, 2010

Diplomats and Soldiers

Recently, there has been some debate in the atheist movement over what strategy should be adopted in relations with religious organizations. On one end of the debate, there are those who think atheists should be polite and accommodating toward those religious people who may treat atheists with respect and who may share common goals such as concern for the environment, social justice (NB: Fuck you Glenn Beck!) and the teaching of evolution in science classrooms. (Contrary to common belief, a majority of religious organizations have no problem accepting the evidence for evolution. Or, to paint a verbal Venn diagram, not all religious people are creationists, though nearly all creationists are religious.)
The counter to this viewpoint is that atheists should not make any compromise with religion. Though not all religions are openly hostile to atheists, even the most benign religions provide the cover under which the more radical religions are allowed to thrive. It might be argued, for example, that even though most religious people condemn the 9/11 attacks, the fact remains that the attacks were motivated by fanatical religious belief. To say otherwise is nothing short of a denial of documented fact. Many people downplayed this aspect of the attacks, however, for fear of offending more moderate religious movements. This timidity to criticize the religious aspect of the attacks, it was argued, made it more difficult to expose the links between terrorism and religion and without this exposure, effective countermeasures would be blunted.
So where do I stand in this debate? At risk of seeming like a copout, I think I'm somewhere in the middle. If the atheist movement is to continue to grow, it will need the ability to adopt varied and flexible strategies depending on the situation. Just as a large nation needs both diplomats and soldiers, the atheist movement will need to adopt both "accommodationist" strategies where they would work best while reserving the option of adopting a more militant stance in situations where they are needed.
To go back to the large nation analogy, it is certainly preferable to maintain civil discourse with other nations even when full agreement is not possible. In such situations, diplomacy is the best course for ensuring peaceful mutual co-existence. In cases, however, where others take actions that threaten our rights and security, we need to stop being polite and start defending those rights.
So that's what I think. Atheists should try to get along with non-atheists if and when possible but should be ready and able to boldly stand up for their rights when necessary. To put things simply: when religious people treat atheists with respect, we should reciprocate. When they take actions to infringe upon our rights, we should not hesitate to fight back - even at the risk of "offending" the more mainstream religionists.

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