The Need for Dialogue

The Online Atheist Community

I have been mostly out of the blogging loop for the past month or so.   However, I have read enough to see a trend that I find troubling.  This trend is not necessarily new.  In fact, I found it in a few places back in January when I first started this blog.  The trend is this:  There is often a very clear lack of discussion when it comes to disagreement(s) with people in/on the internet atheist communities.

Most recently, this can be seen in the debacle that has become the sexism debate.  There is a group of internet bloggers who see sexism as rampant at conferences and a group that does not see sexism as a huge problem at these same events.  Let me start by saying that I have never been to an atheist conference, so really have no opinion on the matter.  What has become clear to me is that both camps have “dug in”.  The first camp has, at times, attacked those in the second as being misogynistic.  They have the attitude of “of you aren’t with us, you are against us”.  The second camp has labeled the first as being overly sensitive.  From my seat, the truth is somewhere in the middle, as it often is.  Surely, some of those in the first camp are being overly sensitive and are fallaciously attacking some in the second camp as misogynistic.  Also true, some in the second camp are a part of the problem.   However, I think it is fair to say that most people are somewhere in the middle.

What is lacking is a general and productive conversation on this issue.  I find this to be quite discouraging.  The idea of an atheist community is a shaky one.  After all, the only thing we are certain to have in common is a lack of belief in deities.  However, most of us also identify as skeptics and free-thinkers, as people who value reason.  Rational discourse has been missing from this conversation.

If a person from the second camp states anything disagreeing with the first, they are attacked—see the mess that vjack at Atheist Revolution found himself in as an example.  This is nonsense.  Any regular reader of his will know that he certainly does not come across as a misogynist.  The same holds true on the other side.  There have been numerous offensive and baseless statements made towards people in the first camp from those in the second.  See some of the horrible comments made towards the Skepchicks for an example.

What should happen?  The people in the first camp should try to better explain what they are seeing and feeling.  They should be trying to show those in the second camp where, why, and how sexism is rampant at conferences.  This should be done rationally and without emotion and attacks.  The people in the second camp should be doing the same.  They should be attempting to explain why they feel that the issue of sexism is not as large a problem as the first camp is portraying.  This too should be done without emotion and attack.  Neither has happened on a regular basis.  Too often, the gloves come off and the punches start flying.

The fact of the matter is probably something along following train of thought.  Sexism does exist at conferences and some people are being overly sensitive on what they perceive as sexist.  A rational dialogue is needed to address this problem.  This is not happening.  The time for this to occur is overdue.  If the current trend continues, the only end in sight is a rift in the atheist community.  I see no need for this to happen.

This same sort of thing happens all of the time in relation to many different topics.  We see it all the time on reddit, twitter, blog comments, and various atheist forums.  Too frequently, we see a person with a dissenting opinion marginalized and attacked.  This is a poor state of affairs.  Many people struggling with their faith turn to the internet to see if they are alone, to look for information, to look for communities of people with similar ideas.  Too often, we are not the most welcoming community.   Many of us who blog and comment are very interested in seeing the tide of religion ebb and hope that atheism flows in its place.  Like any other group, the first impression we leave is often the most important.  I worry that we often leave a terrible first impression.

This does not mean that we all need to agree….most assuredly we will not.  We cannot when the only thing that certainly binds us is a lack of belief in gods.  We count all genders, all races, all ethnicities, all nationalities, and people of all political views among us.  Total agreement will never be found.  What should be promoted and should be found more often is rational and reasoned discourse—not ad hominen or other attacks against opposing viewpoints.

Am I being naïve and searching for a “pie in the sky”…maybe, but if a simple blogger from Minnesota can manage it, so can everyone else.

Thanks for Reading.  I look forward to your comments.


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4 thoughts on “The Need for Dialogue

  1. vjack from Hattiesburg, MS, United States

    I certainly agree that dialogue is needed. Ideally, it would be calm and rational. It would not include any name-calling or irrelevant tangents. And most of all, it would begin from the place that each of us could be mistaken or not be considering the full picture adequately. I am starting to fear that it may be too late for this, as both camps are dug in and quick to respond defensively as if they are being attacked. When I ventured into this mire, I tried to do so from a relatively neutral position. I thought both sides had some valid points, and I attempted to highlight them in an effort to encourage discussion. It hasn't worked particularly well, and I'm not sure what to do next.

  2. Cephus from Redlands, CA, United States

    The problem is, you have one group who have entirely unrealistic expectations and wants atheism to be a shining beacon on the hill with regards to sexism. It isn't like atheist conferences are worse than the general population in this regard, it's probably better, but that's not good enough for them, they insist it must be perfect. It's part of a political agenda and I don't think it ends with sexism either. These people are fanatical about their beliefs, we're lucky they haven't started putting on the metaphorical "explosive vests" yet.

    When someone points out that these positions are not rational, they get attacked. The howler monkeys go screaming and name calling comes out and suddenly, anyone who disagrees with their fanatical devotion gets socially defiled from multiple fronts.

    It's one thing to see a problem and talk about it and try to reach a reasonable solution with all parties involved. It's another to split off into a little group, pump each other up, come up with a ridiculous and unrealistic demand and then expect everyone to roll over and swallow their load of crap.

    That's the situation at the moment.


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