Beyond aggressive atheism

By Eboo Patel and Samantha Kirby Five years ago, atheism was all aggression. From Christopher Hitchens to Richard Dawkins, the … Continued

By Eboo Patel and Samantha Kirby

Five years ago, atheism was all aggression. From Christopher Hitchens to Richard Dawkins, the best selling atheists advanced a particular discourse – one that was both antagonistic and destructive. The question they always answered was, “How many ways can I find to offend religious people?” But the question we always wanted to ask them was different: “How do you bring together people from all backgrounds around equal dignity and mutual loyalty?”

And over the last five years, whenever Eboo gave speeches at interfaith conferences about the Interfaith Youth Core, atheists, secularists and agnostics kept showing up. They would ask how they could be involved – what were they supposed to do in this movement?

We understood the confusion around their role. If all you did was look at the old best-seller list on atheism, you would think that all atheists were anti-religious. But times are changing – all it takes is a glimpse at the newest hit book on atheism, Good without God by Greg Epstein, Humanist Chaplain at Harvard. Epstein’s book is a turning point for atheist discourse, diving into “what a billion non-religious people do believe”, not just what they are against.

From our experience at IFYC – not only do we work with young atheists but a quarter of our own staff are secular humanist – this generation of non-religious young people are paving a new way forward . Last weekend, Nara Schoenberg affirmed this in a Chicago Tribune piece on campus atheists. She writes about what it means to be secular on college campuses – how students are organizing through Secular Student Alliances, and what they are talking about when they meet.

Hemant Mehta, chair of the Secular Student Alliance’s board of directors, reveals to her: “And, personally, if my neighbor’s religious, I don’t really care. I’m less interested in the controversy, and I’m more interested in, what can we do with the beliefs that we do share?” Indeed, a recent Pew study found that 20% of young Americans identify as atheist, agnostic or have “no religion.” As Mehta and others point out, this doesn’t mean they lack values in common with their religious peers.

Atheists today are partnering with religious groups to do service projects; dialoguing and engaging with other religious groups and organizations on campus; and changing the public discourse through blogs, like Mehta’s Friendly Atheist and Chris Stedman’s Non-Prophet Status.

Sounds a heck of a lot like interfaith leadership to me.

So these days when non-religious folks come up after a speech and ask how they can be involved we point them to one place – their peers, who are pioneering interfaith leadership as atheists, agnostics and secular humanists.

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  • YEAL9

    The fact remains that the koran demands that male Muslims (including Mr. Patel) should rule the world and they should use any means to do so.This issue supersedes all other discussion and will do so until the koran is significantly changed and/or deleted all together.

  • DaBigQ

    I was just thinking about a similar subject the other day, and it occurred to me that even the most hardcore atheists and the most hardcore fundamentalist Christians could agree on at least one point… bringing down the hardcore fundamentalist Muslims! How’s THAT for interfaith cooperation!

  • pierrejc2

    Yadda yadda yadda

  • Sajanas

    I politely refuse your request that we athiests shut up and stay quiet. I also politely refuse your suggestion that we become a formally organized religion. The whole point of being an atheist is to have your Sundays (or Saturdays) to yourself. And while it is quite nice to help out, and I think everyone should try to do charity work, I don’t think its up to the individual. I don’t think there is a really nice way of saying “sorry, we don’t think you’re gods exist at all.” I think Hitchens and Dawkins serve there purpose quite well as being firebrands. If you read Dan Dennet’s study on atheists in the clergy, you see that their books are read, and are helpful in letting people that not having religion is not as terrible as the religions make it seem, and that it can be a much more intellectually honest way of living.

  • Whargarbl

    When theists stop telling me I’m going to hell, I’ll stop being aggressive.

  • bob32

    THEISM has been torturing, killing, violating, and punishing human beings for thousands of years, and historically with the cooperation of endless governments. NOW you cry when we’ve stood up and finally said, STOP! NOT ONE MORE TIME. Your doctrines and dogmas of ignorance are coming to an end.

  • YEAL9

    The fact remains that the koran demands that male Muslims (including Mr. Patel) should rule the world and they should use any means to do so.This issue supersedes all other discussion and will do so until the koran is significantly changed and/or deleted all together. And note, Muslim theocracies such as Iran and Pakistan have no tolerance for atheists.

  • areyousaying

    Interesting how religious pundits and other who can’t categorize those that don’t fit into one religious box or an other as “athiests”Although I believe Christ was the best teacher if one follows his words and discards all the other twisted scripture cherry-picking the “religious” so enjoy to make the case for whatever is their political agenda or by the fact that they are not in control of everyone else, I reject all of the Abrahamic religions for their intolerance, arrogance, ignorance and their my-way-or-the-highway stubbornness but believe in a common energy and intelligence that is us all.Do I qualify to be branded as an “atheist” for this? Do you find my beliefs “aggressive” as well?

  • djones44

    The best way to deal with obnoxious atheism is to practice and advocate responsible Humanism, which can be defined as an “inclusive sensibility for our species, planet and lives.”That may sound simple, but there is a lot of tolerance in there, together with a mandate to deal with what we can, and must.Junior philosophies like atheism will be supplanted by a sophisticated Humanism when we also come to embrace a world parliamentary system, to enable species governance, and to finally throw in our lot with our own kind. At no point do we need to discuss the supernatural, however, before or against – it is the wall paper of the past.

  • schnauzer21

    Posted by: areyousaying “Do I qualify to be branded as an “atheist” for this? Do you find my beliefs “aggressive” as well?”Unfortunately the early backlash and intolerrance from the religious communities pushed many atheists toward agressive stances sort of making them “evangelical and militant”, which gave the rest of us a very bad name.

  • YEAL9

    Again we come to save Mr. Patel and his fellow male Muslims who have been directed by the koran to enslave the world for Islam:The Five Step Program for “Deflawing” Islam-Using “The 77 Branches of Islamic “faith” a collection compiled by Imam Bayhaqi as a starting point. In it, he explains the essential virtues that reflect true “faith” (iman) through related Qur’anic verses and Prophetic sayings.” i.e. a nice summary of the Koran and Islamic beliefs.”aka as God, Yahweh, Zeus, Jehovah, Mother Nature, etc.” should be added to your cleansing neurons.”2. To believe that everything other than Allah was non-existent. Thereafter, Allah Most High created these things and subsequently they came into existence.”Evolution and the Big Bang or the “Gib Gnab” (when the universe starts to recycle) are more plausible and the “akas” for Allah should be included if you continue to be a “creationist”.”3. To believe in the existence of angels.”A major item for neuron cleansing. No angelic thingies ever visited or talked to Mohammed, Jesus, Mary or Joseph or Joe Smith. Today we would classify angels as fairies and “tinker bells”. Modern devils are classified as the demons of the demented. “4. To believe that all the heavenly books that were sent to the different prophets are true. However, apart from the Quran, all other books are not valid anymore.”Prophets were invented by ancient scribes typically to keep the uneducated masses in line. Today we call them fortune tellers.”5. To believe that all the prophets are true. However, we are commanded to follow the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) alone.”Mohammed spent thirty days fasting in a hot cave before his first contact with Allah aka God etc. via angelic Gabriel. Common sense demands a neuron deletion of #5. #5 is also the major source of Islamic violence i.e. turning Mohammed’s “fast, hunger-driven” hallucinations into horrible reality for unbelievers. Accept these five steps/”cleansers” and we guarantee a complete recovery from your Islamic ways!!!!

  • yasseryousufi

    WOuld someone please pay some attention to the scumbag YEAL!! He’s begging for it 🙂

  • yasseryousufi

    Secular Democracies (USA and the coalition of the willing), Athiests (Mongol Horde)and Commies (Maoists, Lenin, Stalin) they have all indulged in wholesale murder, rape and plunder of people. Its a really stupid argument that only thiests can be accused of all these misdemeanours!

  • abrahamhab1

    “And note, Muslim theocracies such as Iran and Pakistan have no tolerance for atheists.”

  • ashleybone

    Much of the supposed atheist “aggression” is simply the overreaction of theists to even a hint of criticism of their faiths. Most people in the USA are used to treating religions with kids’ gloves. Voicing criticism of skepticism of religion publicly automatically brands you as “agressive” or “shrill”. But direct, open criticism of religion is exactly what the world needs in this age. Religion is an institution like any other and we will all be better off when we can treat it as such.

  • citizenconcerned

    Mr. PATEL:You and Greg EPSTEIN have lots of Audacity/Nerve to sound like an Expert in what an “ATHEIST” is nor what an “AGNOSTIC” is; yet cunningly trying to equate or put in the same league that deceptive, sel serving word, “SECULAR HUMANIST.”You are trying to get into HARVARD or ride Greg’s cottails and then lodge your ISLAMIC self in a Jewish SECULAR HUMANIST contradictions or made-up, as be a Religion for some 20% Of America’s Youth [Market-FOR-BOOK-Share].?Note: Today; Your Leader, Mr. OBAMA, of the “Faith-Based Council” (Needs to be Obolished; and if not; will cause this Prez to be a Lame-Duck and will haunt you later or soon) just filed his TAXES and revealed that he made $ 4,000,000 off his Books alone?Ahhhhhh, so You and Epstein are Laughing all the way to the Bank Too, like your “Faith-Based-Office” Leader? Ahhhhhh, So your tryin to be like Rick WARREN, aye? Or is it like Mr. Hitchens and Mr. Dawkins?Mrs., IMMAM “TAYLOR” (An American Islamic Moderator Here) Should put-out a “FATWAH” on your Head, not only Rushdi!Note: The “PEW” people are really just that, PEWEE and you and Greg are smelling like them. Your Mother should be ashamed of You. Because you should be embarrased. And Greg Epstein should be ZENilly kicked-out of Harvard for PLAGIARISM, Croaninism and for being infiltrated by a Pakistanian, Islamic Triple Agent!!! more! I (WE) can prove this you Know!?

  • timmy2

    No matter how much noise atheists make they could never hope to match the deafening din of religious piety. For far too long atheists have not been vocal enough. This might have something to do with the fact that for millennia and millennia atheists were killed for speaking up. AREYOUSAYING: If you do not believe in God or gods you are an atheist by definition. You can tell me to “bite you” as well, but it won’t make you not an atheist. The only thing that will make you not an atheist is to state which god or gods you believe in.

  • timmy2

    USAPDXWhat makes you think that non practicing atheists would be reading this blog? Think much?

  • WmarkW

    “No matter how much noise atheists make they could never hope to match the deafening din of religious piety. For far too long atheists have not been vocal enough. This might have something to do with the fact that for millennia and millennia atheists were killed for speaking up.”It’s also partly because it’s hard to organize people around a common non-interest in a subject. There probably aren’t .01% as many clubs of non-golfers as there are of golfers. I’m sure you could find many “Britney Spears Haters Clubs” on the internet, but I doubt they’re terribly active among people with lives.It’s an important question how atheists should organize and what kinds of issues to take on beyond First Amendment ones. Because we do need a way to make the “We’re only subjecting religious claims to the same scrutiny that social or political claims deserve” argument, without it being labeled hating the believers.

  • usapdx

    To all the non practicing atheists, what are your views?

  • timmy2

    “The Cardinal agreed with Allen’s suggestion that that the atheism of Dawkins and Harris was “highly evangelical”Oh well if the cardinal said it it surely must be true.

  • timmy2

    “It’s an important question how atheists should organize”I’m not of the opinion that atheists need to organize or form clubs or become a political force of any kind as a group. They should just be out, and not be censored by the taboo against criticism of religious faith. And when you dismiss that taboo, harsh criticism of most religious faith is an obvious course of action in my opinion.