Today, in a correspondence with some people on an email list about atheist issues, there was some discussion about how, in the past, I had helped with some efforts in Harrisburg, the state capital of Pennsylvania, while living in Philadelphia. I replied thus, also making reference to prior discussions with people on the list about the lively issue, within the atheist and skeptic community, about being offensive or dickish to believers. I thought I would share my response, since I am that kind of guy.
Well, me trying to be logical and all, I figured what happened at my state capital might effect me at some point.
I know, silly….
I mean, sometimes I was too busy having interesting conversations with my professors and such, but sometimes one has to actually step up and do something. Beliefs have consequences. And what people in the world believe, as well as the perspective they have on what others believe, effects their decisions and actions. I remember talking with those girls at the Capital building that time we had set up shop. I remember how they, especially the one vocal and pious one, looked at us with “pity” and gave us literature. Yet they refused ours. These girls may not be in control of much directly (they were not representatives), but because they act as intermediaries between those with power and authority, they play a role in the halls of power. Now, maybe our conversation, in which I was polite and respectful to them personally (although I was honest about what I thought about their beliefs) did not have an impact, and maybe over time it did. I just don’t know. But such interactions with people near the levers of power (as well as the more direct approach to the lieutenants and holders of such power) is important in the long struggle we have as citizens and our constitutional rights.
Those who insinuate that any such attempts make other nonbelievers look bad are buying the game they are selling. They are, in fact, ironically being the very dick they tell us not to be.
You here a rumbling in the distance, and from the south approaches a storm. His name is Shaun, and with him rides the gates of Hell for any person who tries to limit freedoms of speech and expression by threats from people too afraid or disinterested (and not in the Platonic sense!) to be themselves to the world, rationalizing it as an attempt to not be a dick. I ride along with people such as Dave Silverman on a wave of honesty, one which hurts the eyes of those who have been stuck the the cave of theistic shadows for too long. “Too bright!” they proclaim, and pretend their injured optical receptors excuse their hurt feelings which are only secondarily related and really are a defense mechanism of fear and insecurity exposed by such light. And besides them, who are curled in a fetal position and lashing out at anything in their temporary overwhelmed state, is your philosophical brethren who (unknown to those blinded and hurt) carries the same light hidden under their heavy coat. Hiding such light, they hold them close, patting their back and whispering to them that they are sorry, that those people don’t represent all of us.
“It’s OK,” they say, “you can believe what you like, I don’t care. Let me be your friend and never be like them.”
While I sit back, amused and frustrated because I am aware that such a person could never really be their friend, because real friendship involves naked and bold honesty. Real intimacy involves the ability to say what one thinks, although perhaps not at the moment of greatest pain, but afterwords when the shock has worn off. I understand what my brethren means when they implore us to not be a dick, but what they don’t realize is that it is not our behavior that seems dickish; it is our perspective that offends, not our presentation of it. And I will not withhold my perspective in fear of it offending, because if the truth offends then should we never speak the truth? To live that way is to acquiesce to the fear and ignorance in which the theistic world lives. It is also to not be honest, which says little for the light they carry, hidden and shameful.
There is room for polite conversations with professors, neighbors, and friends. But there is a time when you realize that in order to talk with some people AT ALL, one must risk offense in order to maintain any level of relationship. With some, you will seem a dick even if you say nothing more than “I don’t believe there is a god.” In such cases, put away the silly desire not to offend, because such people offend themselves without your help. The offense you fear is not from you, but from the world itself that you act as a conduit for. Protect not those that fear the world, because you only protect cowardliness and thus take on its mantle yourselves.
What this email also refers to is the fact that I’m moving back to Philadelphia. Exactly when…I’m not sure. Latest April 2011. But soon, nonetheless.
Good days and pleasant nights….