Sometimes it’s like I’m speaking a different language to other atheist activists. I say, “do not tolerate religion where it does not belong, but be strategic about how you respond to it”, and they hear, “we have to accommodate religion, or pander to it, to achieve our goals”. It’s hard to react to seeing your point totally misinterpreted like this with any response other than a facepalm.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, Friendly Atheist Hemant Mehta responded to the story of Ashu Solo flipping out over a prayer at a municipal awards dinner with a resounding groan – a response I agree with. Atheist Revolution‘s vjack criticizes Mehta’s response in a post titled In Defense of Making Mountains of Molehills, where he says:
Hemant’s primary objection appears to be with the specific content of Solo’s complaint….
Mehta’s primary objection is not with the specific content of Solo’s complaint. Seriously, how could you even think it would be? The man has written a blog for years that repeatedly reasserts the fact that complaints like Solo’s are perfectly legitimate!
Mehta’s objection is with the method of Solo’s response. Solo was not wrong to feel put out by the presence of a sectarian prayer at a municipal event (where he was one of the people being honoured!). He was wrong to respond to it by screeching “bigotry” and running to the courts, rather than first trying to deal with the problem in a calm and rational manner – specifically, approaching the event organizers and/or mayor and pointing out why such prayers are wrong in public events. By all accounts, the mayor seems to be a thoughtful and tolerant person who just didn’t realize what a douchey move prayers are at public events.
If Solo had just kept his cool and talked to the mayor, the mayor might have realized the error and changed the public policy to eliminate prayer from all municipal events. The mayor didn’t get it – there’s no doubt of that, especially if you look at some of the conciliatory gestures he offered. But he might have gotten it if he’d been given half a chance. Some religious people you just have to give up on – they’re just dead to reason – but there’s no sign yet that the mayor is one of those people. With a little calm, respectful explanation, he might have come to understand the rationale behind secularism, and made it policy without a fight. If he was a crafty mayor, he might even have spun the move as being more accepting of cultural and religious diversity, perhaps bettering his chances at the polls next election. It could have become an opportunity to bring more secularism into the government in a constructive and mutually respectful way. Instead… it’s just another big, heated fight, further fuelling the public perception of atheists as assholes.
Of course if the mayor or other city officials had refused to take the prayer out of public events… then Solo would have been justified in going to war. And I would have been 100% behind him, as I imagine most atheists and secularists would. Instead, by overreacting the way he has, he’s divided atheists, and made us look like pugnacious idiots to the general public.
The just-not-getting-it continues when vjack tries to argue that Solo’s response was successful with this gem:
But Solo certainly got the mayor’s attention, didn’t he?
Yeah, but if getting the mayor’s attention was the only – or even primary – goal, then Solo could have done so much more effectively by dropping trou at the dinner, jumping on the mayor’s table and shitting on his plate, then using the turd to spell out the words: PRAYER DOES NOT BELONG AT GOVERNMENT EVENTS.
Getting attention is not the goal, it’s merely a means to achieve the real goal: getting God out of government. Failing to recognize that is simply shortsightedness. We only try to get attention when we cannot affect real change by more direct means… such as by reasoning with a mayor about why prayer at public events is wrong.
Solo fucked up, and he screwed all Canadian atheists and secularists in the process. Now, instead of cheering at a victory won without fighting as a mayor embraces secularism… or girding up for a real fight in the courts after a mayor dismisses secularism despite rational and respectful pleas… we atheist activists have to shrug with embarrassment and explain why Solo is “not one of us” while responding to shit like this.
We want atheists to speak out, and stand up for their rights, yes… but we don’t want them to be fucking dicks about it. Extend a hand of peace first, and when it gets slapped away – and only if it gets slapped away – should we raise a fist. We are supposed to be a movement of reason, so our first tactic should be to try to reason with our opponents. We should only resort to fighting when they will not see reason. Only an idiot would think that the only two options are to cower hidden or to come out swinging. So what’s your position on that vjack?:
But I’d far rather have him do what he did than remain silent.