Ms. Cherish Goes to the Atheist Meeting September 17, 2014Posted by mareserinitatis in gifted, religion.
Tags: atheism, intelligence, religion, socialization
I’ve contemplated writing on this topic for a while. At the same time, I haven’t wanted to. Probably because I’m not sure what the point of revisiting this is other than to gripe. But then I came across this article about misogyny in atheism and decided I was just irritated enough to say something.
What’s a blog if not a soapbox for such issues? That being said, if you feel the need to vent about the article, please take to the site where it is published.
Let’s start with some background: I am an agnostic Quaker. Yeah, such things do exist. What this means is that I am a fence sitter on the concept of a god. I don’t think there’s really any way to disprove that a god does or does not exist (and I have a pretty good background in both physics and math, so I’m fairly certain I know what such a proof would entail). I know that makes me a heathen in some people’s eyes and an idiot in others. I could think that way of other people, but that’s where the whole Quaker thing comes in, so I try to refrain. If nothing, it’s at least a minimal attempt at humility and recognition of the respect everyone deserves…even when I really don’t feel inclined to give it to them. Or when they aren’t giving it to me. It’s hard, but I do try. (In the words of Howard Brinton, it is better to be inconsistently good than consistently bad.)
Because of my varied interests, I have a friends who fall along the whole spectrum of belief not to mention diverse religious preferences among those who are believers. It’s not a suprise, therefore, that a friend invited me to go to an atheist meeting a while ago. He said that I would probably fit in very well because of the whole agnostic thing, the fact that I’m a scientist, the fact that my husband and I regularly read Skeptical Inquirer.
Except I didn’t. And I fully didn’t expect to. Part of this is because I used to read a lot of skeptical and atheist blogs, mostly for their scientific content. I started getting irritated a while ago because the tone of such conversations often devolved into religion bashing. I stopped altogether after the Watson/Dawkins debacle on PZ Myers blog (mentioned in the article above). Why in the world would I want to spend my time associating with people as obnoxious as Dawkins? (And I love how Neil deGrasse Tyson makes this point in the video below.)
First, there was the whole Quaker thing. While a couple people were familiar with it and felt that it was kind of cool, there were others who were just plain stupid about it. I was grilled on why in the world would I belong to any sort of religiously affiliated group. “Traditions are inherently bad,” I was told. I should have replied that sweeping overgeneralizations are not on the top of my list of good things.
Later in the discussion, something came up about raising children. In particular, one person voiced an opinion that parents don’t have the right to make decisions about their children’s education and that the state ought to have the right to keep parents from passing on religious beliefs to children. (Not surprisingly, this person isn’t a parent.) Now, let’s start with the fact that I think this is an extreme view and not representative of most people I know how are non-believers. But this is also the basis for many (overly vocal) atheists’ opposition to things like the homeschooling. It seriously pisses me off.
I know that most of the people who are opposed to homeschooling use the whole socialization argument, so being as irritated as I was, I started asking questions to move the topic to that point of discussion. Then I nailed the person with the fact that research shows that homeschooling is in fact a superior method of socialization compared with a typical educational environment. As it turns out, I’d spent some time researching the topic and wrote a post on it. Obviously this person wasn’t going to take me at my word, so I got his email and later sent the link to the article about it. Silence.
Finally, there came the sexist comments. They came in the form of praising a female atheist, going on at length about how it was nice to have such a ‘lovely and beautiful woman atheist’ in the group. It felt like she was being flirted with on a public platform. Obviously ugly women atheists aren’t all that interesting. Hello?! I thought freethinkers understood that praising a woman based on her looks rather than her skills and abilities is sexist.
My whole irritation with the freethinker/atheist/etc movement is that it strikes me as the flip side of religious fanaticism. Instead of fire and brimstone preachers, there are the charismatic (and often assholish) ringleaders who are just as vitriolic as the Rush Limbaugh and Howard Stern types. They are intentionally inflammatory and disrespectful. Further, they’re an awful smart lot, and they can rationalize everything and they think they know everything. This is a problem because that’s not what a skeptic or freethinker is. It amazes me how many people will spew their opinions on topics as fact even though they haven’t done a lick of research. The thinking from the most vocal atheists is just as black and white as a religious zealots and only sometimes better informed.
I actually think that a lot of this does go back to that whole socialization argument I had with the fellow at the meeting. Almost everyone I know who is a non-believer is very highly educated. Most of them went through some sort of formal schooling environment where they learned that they were smarter than everyone else. In fact, a lot of them will be very forthcoming on that point given their identity is very wrapped up in their intelligence. And there is a lot of research that shows gifted kids left in that environment have problems, even as adults, relating to others. The resulting behavior a form of maladaption that can follow people for the rest of their lives. If they’re never around people who are as smart as they are, they don’t learn much in the way of humility, discussion with others as peers deserving of respect, and continue to underestimate and challenge people (because it’s an ego boosting behavior) as adults.
That’s what really bothers me about this. Some of these people are incredibly smart and they assume they can figure anything out because they’re rational. They fail to see complexities and nuance in discussion about difficult topics, particularly if those complexities involve emotions. They assume that they can solve any problem with their reasoning without actually researching topics to understand where their reasoning may have faults and failures. They fail to see their opinions as exactly what they are: a dogmatic response to something not always grounded in research or respect for others. Agreement is the litmus test for whether or not you’re really a ‘good’ atheist.
It’s not all of them, but it’s a lot of the most vocal ones. And it’s very off-putting for people (regardless of gender) who may otherwise be interested in what they have to say.