Cats, Pumpkins, and Atheists, Oh, My!

It’s been an interesting week on Twitter. The second blow up in the Atheist Twitter-sphere in about two months. At their core, none of them make sense, at least not to an Atheist who is done trying to fit in.

When I left religion when I was 47-ish, I did what any reasonable bibliophile would do, of course, and looked for a book. There are many options out there and I had no idea who was who. But I had recalled a Christian song mocking Richard Dawkins years earlier, so when I found “The God Delusion” at Barnes & Noble, I picked it up.

In hindsight now I am glad I did, for one simple line that I had never heard: “Organizing Atheists is like herding cats.”

The truth of the matter is that the only thing a group of more than one Atheists has in common is by accident. I am an Atheist who is an Existentialist-Marxist (perfectly acceptable according to Sartre). I am pro-choice, pro-LGBTQIA+, anti-Trump,and  toggling between Sanders and Warren for President. Because of this, and a hundred other things, like the type of car I drive, the way I raise my kids, my PTSD, anxiety, and depression, and the way I manage them, I don’t have much in common with other Atheists.

Atheists, in general, over the history of our species, have had to either learn to live with the opposition, or we’ve had to become hermits, physically or mentally. For many millennia, Atheists have even had to go through the motions of religion if they didn’t want to be killed or be cast out of their “tribe.” There’s a reason Darwin was never knighted.

When Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennett, and Harris self-proclaimed as the Four Horsemen of Atheism, it was an attempt both at raising awareness and allowing Atheists to have a voice. At the end of “God Delusion,” Dawkins discusses his attempts at creating Atheist community with the advent of the internet. These are not necessarily bad things.

Atheists have a higher rate of suicide than their religious counterparts. Part of this is due to the fact that we fear no hell. As a person who has been suicidal, I do not believe that living under the fear of eternal punishment is necessarily better than death. However, one of the other reasons is probably more important, we do not belong. When people have “come out” as Atheists, they are often cut off from family and friends. Their church will abandon them and will even begin to speak evil things about them, sometimes from the pulpit. As one who lost nearly everyone by becoming an Atheist, I can tell you that is no fun.

The draw of community is natural to human beings. I have experienced it myself over the years, but, even as a Christian, I was never able to attain it. There is a group-think necessary that I cannot perform. This does not make me better, it just means I tend to walk as soon as people get controlling about their group-think. But I have learned to understand that others, even Atheists, do not behave like this.

So, back to the Atheist blow-ups on-line. The first blow-up was a surprise to me, and from the outside it appeared that people were freaking out about things they could have calmly discussed. Mostly because I had, no joke, just done a training at work on the very thing the blow-up was about the day before it happened. So, I understood why it happened, but wondered why a group of people who claims to use reason and logic to come to their decisions (and this is the Atheist’s number one claim, regardless if they are anti-Trump or pro-Trump) got so virulent about something that really could have been handled better with a little bit of education for both sides.

The second blow-up confused me, at first. I had no knowledge of most of the people involved. But it came across my feed and when I started asking questions and researching, I learned some things that concerned me about one of the parties involved. It turned out that this group of Atheists had actually told another group of Atheists to keep their voices down because they were sowing discord. My teeth about fell out at that point, because that is a REALLY religious thing to say.

Looking at it from all angles, then thinking over it for a time, I realized that, yet again, the problem here was that group-think was being used to organize people and turn them into virulent mobs.

When I first read their side, though, they sounded like they had a good point. It was compelling. I felt it deeply. But I am old enough now (I’ll be 50 in three months) that I–mostly–don’t jump on bandwagons. So I pushed aside my brief desire for the safety of the larger group and kept reading and kept looking. Then I started to understand that the few people who were trying to point out the error of the mass-group, had points that were far more compelling.

Human beings desire a group. If we didn’t, if we could all be independent thinkers, it would actually be an argument for a god and against evolution. Evolution over thousands of years has shaped this need we have for community. Our mind believes the group is essential to our survival. And for most of our species’ existence, it has been. Independent thinkers were possibly cast out of their group and into the wilds to fend for themselves and probably didn’t get a chance to pass on those independent genes; so we mostly have leaders, who prey on followers.

However, if any Atheist is going to claim reason and logic as their main agent of decision making, what happened in the latter blow-up is cause for great concern. Because, while what happened in the former group can be solved by people on both sides getting educated on how to handle that particular issue, what happened in the latter is a lock-step action and breaking away from it requires a leap in cognitive thinking that the mind is opposed to out of fear of its own destruction.

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