By some twist of probability, there seems to be a flood of overreaction to imagined bigotry by freethinkers in the news recently. I took Atheist Revolution author vjack to task over it last week, and this week it’s Friendly Atheist Hemant Mehta chiding Saskatoon resident Ashu Solo for flipping out over a prayer at a municipal awards dinner.
I can’t say much better than Mehta has what a terrible and overwrought response Solo’s was. And it comes back down to the same damn thing as in the Atheist Revolution case: just because it looks like bigotry, doesn’t mean it is. It could be a perfectly rational and non-bigoted response to a different train of logic (as in the vjack/Anne Graham Hotz case), or it could simply be an accident caused by thoughtlessness (as in the Solo/City of Saskatoon case). In both cases, the correct response is to learn more first, then to teach. First we learn more about Anne Graham Hotz’s motives for not voting for atheists, then we teach why those motives are bigoted (if they are) – and if Anne Graham Hotz isn’t interested in learning, then we educate the general public about the ignorance and bigotry in her reasons for not voting atheist, which just may make them recognize and rethink similar themes in their own minds. In the Solo case, first we ask how and why the prayers happened, and if the cause was just thoughtlessness then we teach the officials involved why it was upsetting – and if the cause was an active plan to put God in government, then we teach them a lesson about that.
Every time I tell atheists to restrain themselves from crying “bigotry” at the drop of a hat, I get accused of accomodationism and called a “faitheist”, which is hilarious since I’m one of the most confrontational atheists you’ll ever meet. My point is always that you should never swing blindly at an opponent. When something stings you, study it first… then decide on the proper response. Sometimes the proper response is to simply shrug it off, or ignore it. Sometimes the proper response is to gently educate the persons who stung you, so that they learn about the mistake they unwittingly made. And yes, sometimes the proper response is to sting back… hard. But even in those cases, the time you spent studying the problem is never wasted. No battle plan ever suffered because of too much intelligence.
If Solo had kept his cock in his pants instead of swinging it around like a maniac at the first sign of trouble, it might have been a win-win situation: he might have been able to convince Mayor Atchison to take steps to better accommodate other religions and no religions (in other words, making the City of Saskatoon even more secular), while Atchison takes the front stage for creating a more open and welcoming government (which might be to Atchison’s own political benefit). It’s conceivable (especially given Atchison’s response) that we could have created a new champion for secularism in government (even if only in a limited sense)!
But the chances of that are probably all blown to hell now. My heart is warmed by the boldness and strength in the atheist movement recently, but it’s depressing to see such fervour untempered by wisdom. vjack didn’t get it, Solo didn’t get it – hell, even Joe at Canadian Atheist didn’t get it (but what else is new, eh?). When you feel insulted or marginalized as an atheist, the first step is not to point fingers and scream “bigotry” and “discrimination”, it’s to think – to understand the insult or slight better. And that doesn’t mean a thought process like, “well, i’ve seen other cases of bigotry and discrimination that sorta kinda look like this, so… that must be what it is!”; it means real thinking – we’re a movement that prides itself on rationality, so we should act like we believe what we preach. Understand the insult or slight, and its motivation, then decide on the best response: which could be firing up the word processor for some hot letters to the editor… or it could be a gentle reminder that atheists exist, and have feelings, too.