Aggressive Atheism — Are Atheists Too Militant Towards Christians in the US?

Are Atheists Too Offensive Towards Christians?

A very interesting blog titled “Women in the atheism community, or lack thereof” (which has now recently closed to new comments) has lots of participation on the topic of the low numbers of openly atheist women. One poster suggested that maybe it was some of the aggressive, in-your-face prominent spokesmen for atheism — including anti-choice sexist bigots like Christopher Hitchens and dyed-in-the-wool misogynists like Bill Maher.

But it’s not only Maher and Hitchens that draw a hailstorm of criticism. Well-respected biologist Richard Dawkins has also been accused of being the stereotypical “arrogant, rude, confrontational” atheist. Dawkins has all my respect, but as a feminist fighting oppression targeting women — especially compulsory pregnancy/birth in the visage of “fetal personhood” laws — I have no love for Hitchens or Maher.

But no one elected either Maher or Hitchens to be “Pope” of the atheist community, as far as I know. They are not atheism’s most prominent spokespeople: Richard Dawkins is, with PZ Myers running a close second.

Dawkins is not rude. He’s not confrontational. He’s defending himself and other atheists from a tiresome barrage of theological and theocratic assaults on our human rights and civil liberties by religionists who wield a significant amount of privilege and power in society.
So what’s the problem?

The problem is an age-old time immemorial tactic of the Religious Wrong “setting up strawmen” and baiting atheists by “moving the goalpost” and getting atheists to “fight windmills.”
These tactics are routinely done by the obnoxious, uncompromising, dictatorial Religious Wrong who are forcing their values, their traditions, and their views on women’s bodies and lives; and they’re forcing their dogma in our public schools, and passing/supporting laws that prohibit atheists from holding public offices (like in North Carolina).

Atheists are getting fed up. We’re tired of it. Especially feminist atheists. And yet we’re asked to keep taking it on the chin in the name of “civility” and “respect” and “tolerance.” Atheists are being told we’re “too angry.” As an atheist, a woman, and a feminist, I have heard these tiresome canards before.

What Atheists Can Learn From Feminists:

What I have learned in 42 ½ years of life as a woman, and as a feminist, a social justice activist, and an author is that the most effective way that the well-heeled men at the helm of the “Moral Majority” Christian Coalition have succeeded in silencing feminists was to discredit us with their relentless accusations that we were “angry”, that we were “man-haters.” Some, like Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly call us “feminazis.”

How dare we demand the same rights, social benefits, and privileges that are automatically accorded to men? How uppity of us! How rude! How arrogant and pugnacious! How dare we, the bitches of the universe, demand equal human and civil rights? How dare we demand bodily autonomy, the right to have reproductive choice and control over what is done to our bodies? How dare women demand equal opportunities for advanced educations and good jobs? Why, the no-good feminists are just out to destroy American freedom, of course!

According to the old guard of rich white male Christian patriarchy (generationally refreshed with younger faces) apologists and spokesmen like Pat Robertson claim that feminists “just want to destroy capitalism, leave their husbands, and kill their babies.” Feminists are all just rotten “atheists who want to destroy America.”

Does this sound familiar? Much of these same accusations hurled at women who have fought, and who are still fighting, for equal rights as human beings; are being hurled as epithets at atheists. Smearing feminists with the godless brush was used to discredit us and our cause for equal rights.
Atheism is “immoral”, Christians say. Atheists are “too angry”, “too aggressive”, and “too arrogant.” Atheists just want to “destroy Christian America!” — they shout from their rooftops. How dare atheists challenge unconstitutional state laws barring non-believers from public office! How un-American! Atheists are just out to get the “poor Christians.” We’re the Grinch Who Stole Christmas by getting mandatory prayer out of public schools. We’re not only out to kill babies, we’re out to kill grandma, too! See the pattern here? Good. There is a lot that atheists can learn from feminists and our struggles.

The Big Lie — Feminists (and Atheists) Must Compromise:

When I was entering my teens in the early 1980’s, feminists fought doggedly to get the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) passed. Unfortunately, it never happened. There was a lot of Mormon and Christian penis inches and money invested in the defeat of the ERA. The defeat of the ERA happened on the heels of the passage of the Hyde Amendment in 1978, thanks to the geopolitical influence of Christian conservative “family values” good ole boys. The Hyde Amendment eliminated Medicaid funding for abortion for poor women who have nothing.

Although a few states have exceptions for rape, incest, or threat to the woman’s health or life, many states have no exception. Even though some states have laws on the books stating an exception so that Medicaid could be used to pay for poor women’s abortions under instances of rape, incest, or danger to the woman’s health or life, Medicaid has not paid for a single abortion since Hyde was passed thirty-one years ago. This effectively initiated backdoor prohibition on abortion — depriving poor women of the fundamental human and civil right to have control over what happens to their bodies, their health, their wellbeing, and their lives.

Feminists accepted this “compromise” out of fear of being smeared with the tar brush of being “unreasonable”, and of being “evil godless” bitches out to destroy this “Christian nation.”
Feminists’ justifiable concerns were dismissed with “you’re too aggressive”, women must be willing to “compromise.”

Feminists were told that we needed to be “tolerant” of intolerant misogynist Christian men dominating Congress and the US Supreme Court and the Presidency as they crushed the hopes, dreams, happiness, bodies and lives of women and girls with their jackboots on our throats; and their Bibles and laws rammed in between women’s legs.

Each year since the ERA was defeated in the 1980’s, the Christian cabal incrementally deprived women of the right to be free from fertility dhimmitude and conscription into childbirth chattel slavery (resulting in disability and premature death for countless women). The religious coterie of Bible and gun toting patriarchal misogynists accomplished this in baby steps with the passage of a series of laws attacking the rights of women and girls in the halls of Congress and in American jurisprudence — in the name of “compromise.”

Now, in 2009 and going into 2010, women and girls have less rights to self-determination, to reproductive choice, and to have control over what’s done to their bodies and lives than twenty years ago when I was a 22 year old woman.

The past decade of polite “compromise” with intolerant Christian misogynists have allowed a spate of “conscientious objector” laws and “fetal personhood” laws to disenfranchise women and girls in the name of “freedom of religion”, which resulted in the loss of access to reliable contraception and, if necessary, abortion, for poor women and girls in every rural hamlet and small town across America. Christian men’s “freedom of religion” and “free speech” came at the expense of human and civil rights for women and girls — especially hitting poor women and girls the hardest.

One case that made front page news last year was that of an 18 year old rape victim in Lebanon, Pennsylvania who was denied access to emergency contraception (Plan B) following a rape. Hers was not an isolated case.

Recently in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, an 11 year old girl gave birth after her mother’s boyfriend molested her. I cannot fathom what damage pregnancy and birth did to her under-developed pre-adolescent body, not to mention her psyche. Pregnancy and birth is traumatizing for full grown women, leaving long-term or permanent damage of varying degrees to adult women’s bodies. PTSD caused by the experience of pregnancy and childbirth is not uncommon.

Feminists have been browbeaten into other “compromises” too: “fetal personhood” laws which have been passed in several states with some disastrous consequences for women who — knowing the full truth and risks inherent with pregnancy and birth — chose to become mothers anyway. Those cases are cited in this post here.

But for women who don’t want to endure unwanted or medically high risk pregnancies are being harmed in innumerable ways, too. Last week, I drove a neighbor 90 miles to the nearest facility where she, a poor uninsured woman, could get her ectopic pregnancy surgically removed. Living in a rural, impoverished Rust Belt town in northwestern Pennsylvania where there are no abortion clinics, no Planned Parenthood, and the only charity hospital that will treat the uninsured is a Catholic hospital that refused to save this woman’s life on the grounds that removing the ectopic pregnancy was “abortion” (which the “pro-life” church opposes). The nearest abortion provider is either 90 miles northeast in Buffalo, NY or 90 miles west in Cleveland, OH.

In many poor regions throughout the Rust Belt and the Bible Belt, there is only one or two pharmacies in the community. Fetal personhood laws have resulted, and continue to result, in women and girls in those communities having no access to birth control.

Shootings of abortion doctors, beginning with the murder of Dr. David Gunn in Florida in 1993, clinic bombings by “pro-life” Christian zealots like Eric Rudolph, two decades of terrorism and stalking of abortion patients and staff, and the recent shooting death of Dr. George Tiller shows us what tyrannical Christian men and their “trophy wife” collaborators in the “Moral Majority” mean when they speak of “compromise” to pro-choice advocates, feminists, and atheists. They mean that it’s their way or no way. At all.

Consequently, doctors are increasingly reluctant to perform abortions even when the mother’s life is at stake because they’re afraid that they’ll be the next one blown up or shot by Wahabbist Christian mullahs and their Bible-thumping mujahedeen who have declared a jihad against women. Terrorism works. That’s their definition of “compromise” in their war against women’s basic human and civil rights. Their “compromise” is a lie.

Christians screamed how “persecuted” they are in this country since feminist and atheist Madalyn Murray-O’Hair successfully sued to get God out of the public school classrooms back in the 1970’s. Madalyn Murray O’Hair paid the ultimate price for being a spokeswoman for atheism and for fighting religious oppression in the US. She was murdered. Her body and the bodies of her grandchildren were found dismembered.

Christian organizations and churches have lobbied Congress and financially backed lawyers and judges to codify their religious beliefs into laws that encroach on others’ lives — especially on women’s bodies and sexual expression. Christians have demanded “tolerance” and a seat at the great table of diversity. But they’re unwilling to reciprocate. Christians have been pushing evolution out of public school classrooms and supplanting it with Creationism/Intelligent Design theory — which isn’t science, it’s mental aroma therapy.

The Christian definition of “tolerance” for their beliefs is that their way is the only way that’s deserving of respect and that their beliefs should be used to pass laws which oppress and disenfranchise other people.
Just look at the GLBT community. They can tell you about all of the civil rights they’re being denied because of laws like Prop 8 that have crept up in several states. Ask women who have been forced to endure pregnancy and childbirth against their will because the law lets Christian and Islamic “pro-life” pharmacists deny birth control prescriptions to patients based on their “freedom of religion.” Just ask pre-adolescent girls whose bodies have been destroyed — along with their psyches, their hopes, and dreams — by compulsory childbirth. Ask the atheist who was elected to a political office in North Carolina, but was barred from having his position because of that state’s constitution which bars atheists from holding public office. This is under the guise of the 1st Amendment’s “freedom of religion.” Ask the breast cancer patient who lost her job and healthcare (and now cannot pay for cancer treatment) because she was fired from her Christian employer just because she’s an atheist.

When Christians or Christian apologists tell atheists that atheism’s spokespeople are “too militant”, “too angry”, they’re repeating the same canards that they’ve hurled against feminists over the past 30 years to cudgel us into acceptance of increased oppression of women. Feminism is hated because women are hated. The way women have been, and are being, treated was the canary in the coal mine.

Feminists got blind-sided. As long as SOME women got to go to prestigious universities and grad school to attain high-powered careers in medicine and law while most women still languish in poverty without any opportunities, feminists were expected to “be nice.” Women have been told since this nation’s founding that other issues were more important than our dignity and equal rights. Our turn would come eventually, we were promised. If we sit here hat in hand, we’ll hear Gabriel’s trumpet first. Since most hardcore feminists are also atheists, we don’t believe in a god, let alone angels with trumpets.

Feminists got conned into silence in the face of injustice in the name of “tolerance” and “compromise” by the same people who now hurl the same verbal bile at atheists. Had the feminist leadership not bowed down to their demands in polite silence as women’s rights have been slowly taken away at the cost of women’s health, wellbeing, happiness, and lives, there wouldn’t be government funded abstinence-only sex education in schools today. There wouldn’t be a usurping of public school science curriculum by Creationism and Intelligent Design. There wouldn’t be heinously unjust laws like Prop 8 which deny gays the right to marry; thus enjoy the benefits that marriage accords such as being added onto a spouse’s employer health benefit plan, or social security survivor benefits upon death of a spouse, or the right to adopt children languishing in the foster care system.

The same crowd that used weaponized language, fallacious arguments, and emotive pleas for “tolerance” and “fair compromise” to undermine feminists and women’s human and civil rights, is the same crowd using the same rhetoric to keep atheists marginalized and disempowered politically.
Atheists and atheism was hated far more before it became “militant: and “rude” than afterward, in the same way that women and gays only got a few hard-won rights at all after raising hell rather than being quiet and apologetic. Although mainstream feminists are outright offended by radicals like the late Andrea Dworkin (famous for getting laws passed granting victims of “white slavery” the right to sue their abusers in the porn industry), it wasn’t the polite quiet feminists who got the law passed that allowed women and children who were physically forced into pornography to sue their abusers. It was militant radicals like Andrea Dworkin.

I don’t support the idea that atheists should be vicious or abusive or confrontational with Christians without provocation. Religious people have no problem with telling the rest of us we’re going to hell for our beliefs or our lifestyles. I have no problem telling them that they’re deluded and ignorant. I don’t believe them and they don’t believe me. That would pretty much even things out except they want to use the power of the government to make me live according to their belief systems. And when atheists such as Richard Dawkins, PZ Myers, or Pat Condell are derided with accusations of being “militant”, “intolerant”, or “too aggressive”, I cannot help but see the irony.

Views: 165

Comment by Dave G on December 17, 2009 at 12:19pm
Greta Christina has a very good blog article on what she calls 'Shut up, that's why' arguments, more than one of which falls into the 'atheists are being mean/not tolerant/whiny/pushy' complaints.
Comment by Jacqueline Sarah Homan on December 17, 2009 at 12:29pm
Cool :)

I just wanted to share with my male atheist friends some knowledge and insight that I gained as a woman, and as a feminist woman. I was motivated to show the similarities in the way the Religious Wrong treats women and expected feminists to play nice (instead of being feminazis)...and how those same Xtians are shaming atheists with the same verbage, the same weaponized language, that was used against feminists.

PS: After surviving a brutal attack as a 14 yr old and going to Planned Parenthood in Philly (where I was living back then), I had to literally muscle my way through a herd of Operation Rescue guys. One angry man got in my face, calling me a "whore" and a "baby killer". I made him become one with his dead fetus placard. I later learned who he was: Randall Terry of Operation Rescue.

The irony was, I was not getting an abortion. I was going for my first Pap smear, pelivc exam, and birth control pills.

That was a defining moment for me.
Comment by Gaytor on December 17, 2009 at 12:50pm
I'm a feminist and have no issues with protecting reproductive rights. It's an area that there should be no compromise. It's a medical procedure and we don't need to Gov in that room. The Bible is pro abortion and infanticide so I don't understand why we should accept any religious argument for this issue.

The problem for feminists is guys like me lived through the 80's and into the early 90's and recall how on a social level it decimated men. I was an example and had to find a pair from a misogynist at 25 (Tom Leykis was the misogynist). Feminists wanted men that were sensitive, wore pink, wanted men to listen to them, could cry, etc. When they got it, they realized they weren't with men anymore. It wasn't an image of their father and for many of us the home is where we learn what is attractive about the opposite sex. So men like me that grew up without a father were flat out pussies and got kicked around for years. Thanks Gloria and Oprah. Thanks to Tom Leykis, I found my manhood again and the next three girls I dated proposed to me.

Feminism is great for political organization. I support it. But when it comes to telling me what to think or how to be socially, it colossally fucked us up as a society. Feminists as a group can't be honest about what they want in men because it becomes a contest of vitriol. So for those of us that lived through the rhetoric of "Women need men like fish need a bicycle" feminism would be better served sticking to the task at hand which is equality legally.

I wish that we had longer blog histories so that I could demonstrate that I'm not blowing smoke about being a Feminist.
Comment by Jacqueline Sarah Homan on December 17, 2009 at 1:04pm

Equal rights was and is my whole thing. Back in the 1980's when I was coming of age, I saw a lot of shit. And I've been through a lot of shit. But understand this: it is not OK for women to be the one group that it is acceptable to hate, to abuse, to enslave, to maim, to kill, to impoverish, or to rape. I refuse to apologize for demanding the same human and civil rights as the other half of the human race enjoys. And I refuse to apologize for my position that it is not OK for men to deliberately abuse or hurt or kill women just to "feel like a man."
Comment by Jacqueline Sarah Homan on December 17, 2009 at 1:16pm

Comment by David Miller on December 17, 2009 at 1:21pm
I advocate being assertive over being aggressive any day of the week. While it is true that being aggressive can have a positive short term effect, in the long term it generally stirs up discontent and fosters counter-aggression. In my opinion, being assertive is pursuing your beliefs without making an attack on your opponent a priority.

Aggressive: Christians are a bunch of ignorant bigoted cowards who wallow in their zeal like pigs in their shit.

Assertive: It seems clear to me that many Christians are much less willing to listen to a different point of view for fear that it will be contrary to their ridgid mythological belief system.

In this example, while being roughly equal in offense to an extremist, to a moderate the assertive response is much less offensive. I do not believe that we have the capacity to "kill religion." For this reason, it is important that we learn to speak with them while ignoring the extremists. The only time that we pay attention to them is when we must take action against them (like when they kill an abortion doctor).
Comment by Jacqueline Sarah Homan on December 17, 2009 at 1:25pm

Well, if you look at all of history, and you look at the present state of affairs, it's fair to say that it hasn't been atheists who were the aggressors.
Comment by Jacqueline Sarah Homan on December 17, 2009 at 1:45pm
@ Targus:

I totally agree that Dawkins came out looking to be the intellectually and morally superior one in his interview on the O'Reilly show. But if intelligence and reasonableness really count so much, why is it that demagogues like O'Reilly and Limbaugh are able to make a fortune from spewing toxic bile which so many people buy into and inject it like it's the elixir of life? I don't get it. Why aren't smart people who are humane and decent the ones running this nation and shaping public policy?
Comment by David Miller on December 17, 2009 at 1:55pm
I certainly agree that there are not many good historical examples of really aggressive atheists (though there are some), however this doesn't give us the right to be abusive in return. I believe in soft power I suppose.
Comment by Jacqueline Sarah Homan on December 17, 2009 at 2:02pm
David, you're right on the abuse part. I don't think we should be abusive. But I don't think we should let them abuse us, either. I think when we get stepped on, we should not be shamed into taking it on the chin and letting Xtian (or Islamist) bullies push us into continued marginalization and dhimmitude with the "compromise" or "tolerance" cudgel, if you get me.


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